The Song Of Arthur - Chapter XI
by S. Fowler Wright
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Tristram And Iseult.
From when Queen Morgan's horn to Cornwall came,
Like tinder waiting to be touched to flame
Was Mark's fierce hate of Tristram. Only now
Was Tristram ware thereof, and all men knew
That Mark's fair consort, were she false or true,
He hated likely, and no more they met,
Save in full hall, or seldom.
Unless by Bragwaine's loss, she could not be.
No other friends were hers, and desolate thought
To Tristram turned, as very surely he
Desired and hungered, and occasion sought
For meeting as they might. And how should she,
So compassed and so judged, as days went by,
Ever, and in all moods, her heart deny?
Clear honour told her that she did not well,
Yet, as Mark thought her, to that depth she fell
Who might not else have fallen. From the thought
Of that she once through witch-bound weakness wrought,
Which charged her dreams, desire took shape and flame,
And when by narrowest chance occasion came,
And Tristram's mood, as steel to sheath allied,
Met hers, no more her lips her need denied,
But to short joy they fell, and, once allowed,
Was the sin greater that its sum was more?
Well knew she that her faith to Mark was vowed,
Nor that dishonour which she wrought before
Reduced it. Yet the tales that Bragwaine brought
Showed him regardless of his own to her.
But why recite what many hearts have thought
To silence honour, when too sharp a spur
Was love's desire? Again - again - they met:
And Andret round them drew too close a net
For long evasion.
So one night was set
For meeting safely, as they thought they might,
While still was summer, and the moon at height
Had been fair guidance for their meant delight,
But Andret snared them.
Twelve strong knights he took,
Full-armed, so much his craven purpose shook,
To break upon them. With no arms at all,
Even his sword, and with no friends at call,
What could Sir Tristram but to yield? Unclad
They bound him, and in mockery then they led
To Mark, who waited: "Use good ropes," he said,
"And hold him till the morn."
They bound him hard,
And in the chantry, with ten knights at guard,
They left him till bright dawn across the sky
Made splendour of the chantry windows high.
Full bitter were his thoughts, but bootless now
Was all regret. To Mark, his doom to hear,
They led him, gibing. Either arm was tied
To knights who strode beside him. At his rear
Were others crowding, lest should friends appear
In mood for rescue.
"Fair my lords," he said,
When in set hall the deadly charge was read,
"I will not vainly that I sought deny,
But something may assert that puts it by
From separate judgement. Is it naught to weigh
That Ireland's tribute is no more to pay?
That Queen Iseult through many risks I brought,
A pledge of lasting peace, from Ireland's court?
When there, at wager of my life, I went,
I might have wed her with her king's consent.
Naught is it that, to hold a plighted word,
To yield her to King Mark my choice preferred?
Naught is it that, from Palomides' spear,
I won her scatheless, and I brought her here?
Think ye what other to this court attached
Had dared that hazard, and the Paynim matched.
Not Andret surely."
"Yea," Sir Andret said,
"Boast as thou wilt. For who regards the dead?
And dead thou shalt be ere yon sun be low."
"Oh, Andret," Tristram answered, "wilt thou show
No natural kinship even now? In thee,
So close my cousin, should my surance be,
Who hast been all these days my liveliest foe.
Yet if alone we stood, myself and thou,
I should not fear the worst thy sword could do."
"No?" Said Sir Andret, as that sword he drew,
"Yet art thou doomed its fatal point to know,
For I must slay thee by the king's decree."
Bare stood Sir Tristram of all fence, and tied,
Arm against arm, to those on either side,
Whom Andret did not doubt would hold him well.
But called he now on all his strength, and flung
His arms aloft, that those two knights were flung
Feet-forward on the sword, and as they fell
The strong cords brast, and Andret, stumbling back,
To ground he smote, and snatched the sword, and fast
His captors, from his naked, blind attack,
To either doorway ran, while those he slew
Whose feet were laggard, or who started last.
So, like a blast of storm, when winds renew
Full tempest, after pause fresh breath to gain,
Out from Tintagel's walls he broke unstayed,
For those of heart to cross his path were few,
And these were flung aside, or else were slain.
Then on the high cliff-edge sometime dismayed
He stood, with cooling blood the more aware
Of naked peril which he might not flee;
And when an arrow through the singing air
Beside him passed, he tried the sharp descent
Of crags that hollowed to the breaking sea.
There lurked he like a hunted beast. He lay
In narrow fissure till the long day went
Its western way. But when the moonlight came,
Were some of friendlier sort who cried his name,
To whom he answered: "Here, I know not how,
I scatheless came, but yet I see not now
How backward might I climb, nor further way
Is downward, save I fall."
"No foes are near thee now. A rope we fling."
Thereat he waited for its inward swing,
And snatched it, and spun out, and so was hauled
With bruises upward.
"To the queen," he asked,
"No evil came?"
Sir Sentraile answered: "Nay,
Not to her life, as yet. A further day
Her judgement waits. But in his mood the king
Said no clean place should hold her. Till she dies,
He ruled that in the lazer-cote she lies."
"Then hath he wrought for her delivering,
As, had he practised in a kinglier way,
We had not found. I deem that for her sake
The castle walls were ours, to scale or break."
All had they furnished for Sir Tristram's needs
For strife or flight. Good arms and waiting steeds.
So through the night the evil cote they sought.
Remote was built that lepers' curst resort,
And even those to guard the queen were set
Some distance from it. Past their partial guard
The rescuers broke. The doors, too slightly barred,
Fell inward at the axe's first descent.
With Bragwaine only was the queen, and they
Furnished and clad the road to take, intent
That rescue should not wait, and hope alight
That friends would find them while endured the night.
"Art there, my queen?"
"Oh, Tristram, art thou here?"
"Thou didst not doubt me?"
"Nay, I would not fear:
I could not fear who know thee."
In the near vale."
The sound of swords' debate
Rose loudly in the night, and shouts of men.
But quickly died they, for Sir Sentraile clove
The boldest helm, and hard Lambegus strove,
And Govenale, though he bore a knightless name,
Used a good sword, and close behind them came
So slew they till the routed remnant fled,
Then sought their steeds, and rode by wild and way
Their foes' pursuit to foil, but lift of day
Showed lances on their trace, for Mark had heard
Too quickly of their flight, and wrothly stirred
His utmost strength to reach them.
Looked back, and in his heart he mocked the men
Who urged their steeds to take him: "Lo," said he,
"Will those who fled my path, they cared not how,
When bare was I, of better temper be
Now that I ride in knighthood's panoply?
It were but jest to think it."
But no word
Came likewise from the lips of her who heard,
Nor gave her eyes their glad response, for she,
Disastered by the event's adversity,
Lost even in him her buoyant faith, and dread
Traitored, unwont, her nobler mood, that when
He reined at rise of ground, and laughed to see
The numbers who pursued: "Is Andret there?
Comes he again a second sword to share?"
She answered: "Would you tempt high Heaven again?"
"Think ye to see me by these weaklings slain?
Hast known my sword to fail thee?"
"Nay?" She said,
Searching pursuit with eyes uncomforted,
"The sword divine between our loins that lay,
And failed to hold us from our joys away,
At our last hour may fail us."
"Might it fail,
And that base rout which bays our heels prevail,
There were nor God in Heaven nor faith in thee
Its end to assure. So weak, with hilt to hand,
Was found I ever that Andret's horde should stand
Their deaths to take who know me? Heed ye well,
In this wide land, since Palomides fell,
Is none of heart our open path to stay."
"Yet must I fear, if such a strife betide,
Thy charger is too worn a course to ride."
"Are theirs less worn?"
"A fall were worse for thee.
We have no hope of life except we flee."
"Well. As thou wilt! But other hope had I.
From ten good blows it were their part to fly."
Eastward he looked again. Dense woods were spread
Beneath them to the right, and long ahead.
"Here should be covert to thy choice," he said.
"We thus may foil them." Down the slope he led,
And soon cool shadows, and close boughs above,
From those who followed hid the path they chose,
And for the clamour of the chase that rose,
The jay's harsh challenge, and the calling dove
Were all they heard. Before the sun was low,
Weary to death, a struggling line and slow,
To a lone manor that Sir Sentraile knew
They came, and in that place remote and hid,
These twain, whom evil fate so long fordid,
Found a short joy, that was no less to find
For the cold days and griefs that lay behind
- Behind, but not too far to overtake,
Await for some reminding word to wake
With the dark menace of their further threat.
Would outraged Heaven forgive? Would Mark forget?
No lift of leaves that any breeze might bring,
No bird that beat an unexpected wing,
But was their warning. When again they met
From separate ways, however short had been
The urgent moments that they passed unseen,
So had they doubted of that hour's delay
That bliss was theirs beyond our words to say;
Nor once the lucent glades of Eden had
Diviner joys than in their hearts were glad,
Finding the moments of embrace more dear
For the spent shadow of the former fear.
But what did Mark the while? His ways were slow,
Devious, but fixed of purpose. First he sought
Of Tristram's dwelling and his strength to know,
And learned it, smiling: "Had he made resort
To Camelot's girdling walls, or isles afar
Where but the seawinds and the seabirds are,
I yet had reached him at the last; but now,
No hind that grazes where the stakes are set,
No fish that sports within the narrowing net,
Is doomed more surely. Bring me word of how
His days are spent; and when a swift attack
Might seize Iseult, and bring her lothly back
To learn her duty to my realm and me.
Die should she; but a living bait may be
Of more avail to snare him."
So he planned.
For few were round him now of heart and hand
To face Sir Tristram; and the best he had
He trusted least.
With coward craft he hired
A caitiff bowman. One of practised skill
Conies, and deer, and flying birds to kill
From covert of green boughs, and him required
To ambush Tristram when abroad he went.
"But wait," he counselled, "as wise patience may,
That not from far a doubtful bow be bent,
Lest at long range the arrow fell astray,
And so give warning."
Long he lurked unseen
In the dense woods. He watched Sir Tristram's ways,
And saw that at the noon of sultry days
Sometimes he slept beneath the branches green
Of a wide-shadowing beech. He did not wear
The weight of harness, but his sword was bare,
Ever beside his hand.
A brake nearby
Gave covert whence a fatal shaft might fly,
At leisure aimed. A better chance than this
Were vain to hope. At such a range to miss
He did not fear. And soon occasion came.
At one who drowsed he took deliberate aim.
The whizzing shaft he loosed, and watched it fly.
Full straightly was it aimed, and yet too high
For deadliest hurt. It gored Sir Tristram's thigh,
And in the smooth bole of the mighty tree
Quivered awhile and stilled.
Sir Tristram slept
Ever of danger ware. Alert he leapt,
Instant. The wound he felt: the shaft he saw.
The ready sword he had no pause to draw,
But snatched, and ran toward the brake from whence
The arrow surely came.
No heart had he,
That hireling, with a second shaft to try
The narrowing chance, but out he sprang, and thence
Fled, but not far. Fate ruled that equity,
That he who sought to kill should learn to die.
Faint from the loss of blood he could not stay,
And with each step of the returning way
More doubtful than the last, Sir Tristram drew
Toward the manor gates, and found them wide,
And one dishinged and broken. All inside
Was silent. Marks of many hooves without
Had warned him first. But here disorder wild,
Cast weapons, and fair palls with blood defiled,
And torn and trampled, left no space for doubt
Of what had been. And soon the tale was bare
From minions who had shunned hot strife to share,
But now from hiding came.
His knights but ten,
But with a numerous rout of meaner men,
Had Mark with Andret on them burst, and caught
Iseult and Bragwaine in the outer court,
Mounted to ride the forest ways. They might
Have borne them off with scarce a changing blow
Had they not sought Sir Tristram loft and low,
Thinking perchance to find him bare of steel,
And vengeance on a naked foe to deal.
Govenale, some fancy of Iseult to serve,
Was absent. Sentraile, like a searing flame,
Pierced to the core those caitiff ranks, but fell,
Sore wounded from behind. Lambegus came
Late on the scene. He could no more than ride
Upon the captor's rear, their path to tell,
Or chance of rescue, should it rise, to bide.
But no such chance there came. The queen was mured
In high Tintagel's outmost tower. She lay
In prisoned durance by strong guards assured,
With barred approaches of more strength than they,
While Tristram, of a venomed wound uncured,
Cursed the slow passing of the frustrate day.
Closely Iseult was held, but much she heard
Through talk around her, or the whispered word
That gold would win. By which bright argument,
A letter to Sir Tristram's hand she sent:
'Attempt not,' so she wrote, 'a vain essay
Of rescue, nor my peril falsely weigh.
Mark hath no purpose in his heart to slay,
But thinks to use me as a bait for thee,
With ambush of mailed knights, and archery
To be thy death. But as thy love be true,
Avoid so plain a snare. Thy wound must be
Thy first regard to cure, and if not I,
Who is there like Iseult of Brittany
A festered wound to charm? If there ye go,
Soon shall I gain the longed-for peace to know
Thy life and welfare have not failed through me.
'Believe that worthless at this time it were
To seek my freedom, wert thou whole, and now
It were to give to Mark the gain he would,
Which were more sorrow than I need to see.
To seek me now were death. But oversea
Are life and healing. Better days to be
May wait us than the days that once were good,
If so God willeth, though I know not how.'
So wrote she in good faith, but most intent
That further from the hate of Mark he went,
Than thinking that his wound none else could heal.
And as she counselled, in good faith he did,
Seeking a cure for that which mended ill,
Yet used that pretext largely to conceal
What had been, that to Howel's court he came
As one who healing sought, and did not name
Mark's malice, nor its cause.
He found goodwill
And friendship, while, with gentle care and skill,
Iseult - men called her Of the Healing Hands -
Drew forth the poison of his hurt, until
Fair healing came, and as the months went by
It seemed that time relaxed the lawless bands
Which bound him to his own Iseult, so fair,
So gentle was this new-found friend; and they,
Being noble and like-natured as they were,
Good converse held of kindred hearts and young.
Should never more another song be sung,
Because was joyance in an ended day?
And sweet as some unbroken rose was she,
Fragrant in all, and more than fair to see,
Fashioned for service at love's call, and he
Was godlike in her eyes. What else could be,
As winter yielded to the gain of spring,
But love's recall, a better gift to bring,
Flawless of honour, and devoid of fear?
Love's consummation was not hindered here,
But urged of all around. These twain were wed
With gifts and blessings, and rejoicings said
By all of Breton speech.
But memory lay
A waiting snake in Tristram's heart, and rose
To frustrate that it had not stirred to stay.
For when in love's desired embrace to close
He halsed Iseult, by love's diviner law,
Again his own Iseult's dear breasts he saw,
And felt her lips that loved him.
Naught he told
To her who slackened in too loose a hold,
But kissed her, kind in coldness, where she lay,
And spake fair words awhile, and turned away.
Much have men praised this carnal constancy
Which held them separate through long months to be,
While she, too ignorant her loss to weigh,
Took quiet pleasure from the friendly day.
But wherefore should we take with slight regard
That causeless by such course her life was marred?
For proved was here the word the Christ had said
- He who His own with no false comfort fed -
That mortal lives are seeds flung wide and blind,
That some good earth and kindly nurture find,
And some fall sterile on a stoney way,
And some, on which the flocks of starlings prey,
Give life to those by which themselves are sped.
So with Iseult it fared. Her life had found
The sterile verdict of a stony ground,
Nor knew she that a better soil might be,
But chanced it that a woodland path she rode
With Tristram and Key Hedius - heir was he
To that fair land, her brother, Autumn showed
Not yet, save in that fall of earliest leaves
Which the cool depth of meadow grass receives
As summer spoils unheeded.
Down the way,
Aisled by great elms, the summer wind at play
To meet them came, and by its largesse free
The light leaves drifting in her girdle caught,
Thereat, in idle mood of laughing sport,
She loosed and shook them from her: "How bold they dare!
And closer even than my lord would care
My zone to reach."
And Hedius caught the word,
But hardly, and in doubt of half he heard,
He answered - half of doubt and half of jest -
"Nay, where they closer than thy lord would rest?
Then is he frugal of the wealth he won."
Thereat she frowned a puzzled doubt, as one
Vexed by a vain essay to grasp his thought,
Till in her eyes a troubled wonder wrought,
And on she rode, and answer gave him none.
Tristram, who reined a narrow space ahead,
Heard, as he must, yet naught he looked or said,
But heedless seemed, and Hedius guessed thereby
More than her words had held, and so the three,
As though bright dawn had clouded, silently
Rode homeward, each of that one thought aware,
A shadow, which they did, and did not, share.
But Hedius later to Sir Tristram came.
"I would not think," he said, "so strange a shame,
And leave it secret, lest the doubt prevent
Fair friendship. Is my sister in thy sight
As leprous deemed, in whom thy most delight
Were fitly found?"
And Tristram: "Lo, we be
Blood-brothers, and this bond should bear with me
The while a tale of seeming wrong I tell,
That neither haste should judge too soon, nor then
Then the tale he told of how
He met his own Iseult, and enmity
Exiled him: and again how Anguish' vow
Constrained them, that their double oath's required
That she whom more than life himself desired,
And who had wed him with glad heart, must he
To Mark resign. And how desire had been
Their later snare, and all that chanced, and how
He fled from Mark, and so from Cornwall's queen
Was parted, past all hope: "And memory now
Will never at occasion's height allow
That other pleasures may I take, so keen
The recollection of what once hath been
Will raise its head to thwart me. Hadst thou seen
Of whom I speak, thou wouldst not chide, but know
The bondage which betrays thy sister so
Is past my breaking. For Iseult compared
With other ladies shines more bright, as though
A moving cloud the sun's full glory bared.
"Not Pelleas in the night with Nimue
Such joy could find, though more than mortal she,
And more than mortal be her loveliness.
Morgan, for all her practised wiles, were less;
And less Guenever and Morgause, though they
May draw good knights from honour's path away,
To find high solace in that shamed regress."
"I fain would see her whom you praise so well."
"There is nor harp could sound, nor voice could tell,
How much I long it."
"Yet should Cornwall learn
Thy marriage here, were never safe return
By casual passage, or entreated right?"
"You know not Mark, There is no Christian knight
More base, more hateful, nor more false than he."
"Yet might I lonely go this queen to see."
"You need not that, for wilt thou come with me
A secret venture shall we join to try."
"That will I gladly."
"Should I chance to die,
As well may hap if Cornish land I tread,
Thy sister will be well released thereby,
And naught of any wrong be known or said."
So, when the skies were kind, a barque they manned,
And northward sailed to reach the Cornish land.
The wind, from out the summer south that blew,
Was light at noon, but as the darkness drew,
It came in fury from the west. No more
Their course they kept, but strove, from shore to shore,
Making the wind's way theirs, a path to steer
Where the wild waters held no rocks to fear.
Yet when the coast of Servage isle was near,
That hope was lost, so hard the tempest blew,
Verring again to south, and ere they knew
It bore them where destruction waiting lay,
Snapt the strained mast, and swept the lurching deck,
And then to leeward rolled a broken wreck,
That sharp rocks tore, and sucking waters drew.
Scantly with life and loss of all besides,
By mercy of flat sands and shoreward tides.
The strongest came ashore, and only they.
Tristram of these, with Govenale and Key,
Found covert refuge at the rise of day
In woods which those unarmed might well prefer
To open fields, while little yet they knew
Of mainland or of separate isle, or who
Its laws controlled.
But little comfort there
They found, and berries were no princely fare
For hungered men; and when a knight they met
Who closely in a narrow glade had set
His strait pavilion, for a change of woes,
Or better hope belike, they boldly stood.
"What do ye, Tristram, in this lonely wood,
And less to grace thyself than please thy foes,
Draggled and bare?"
"And of my foes art thou?"
"Haply I have been, but I am not now,"
Sir Segwarides answered. "Wantons light
Should have no force to sunder knight and knight,
Where both be knightly in their moods."
I thank thee for thy grace and courtesy,
Which more perchance than barren words shall pay
At different times from these."
"Good fare ye need?"
"We here on birds and conies feed,
And find no lack."
Toward the tent he led.
"I am not lonely in these woods," he said.
And showed a damsel who, with laughing eyes,
His guests received. And while two squires supplied
Their urgent needs, that damsel's light replies
To Tristram's asking no response denied.
"Where are ye?"
"On the isle of Servage we."
"Why lurk we here so close?"
"Because we fear
The island's lord, if he should find us here.
A boisterous tyrant is Sir Naban called,
Whose jests are savage, and who will not be
Rivalled by any in his seigneury."
"Yet must his rule to Arthur's peace conform."
"Believe ye that? The straits of severing sea
That part this diamond isle from fair Logre,
Are moats so deep that never stronghold walled
Could give such warrant of security
To him who keeps it for himself; and he
This custom holds, that none of Arthur's knights
He to the freedom of his fields invites;
So that they come not save by trespassing."
"How came ye then?"
"We came where none we know
Would think to find us."
"Well, I came perforce.
How should he chide it? But ye well may wit,
Had I sure lance to lift, sure steed to sit,
It might be largely to Sir Naban's loss
That he should irk me."
"That I well believe
For well I know thee."
"You from Cornwall came?"
"There was I born and bred till yesterweek."
"The queen is well?"
"Was naught her peace to grieve
Since Tristram left her."
"Might I speak
So lightly had I tale of grief to tell?"
"Then speak thou as thou wilt, if all be well."
Not only Tristram was the seawind's sport.
Ere noon was word to Segwarides brought
By fishers, who had been his friends before
To add sea-harvest to his meagre store,
That, cast as flotsam on the further shore,
A knight of Arthur had they breathless found.
His arms and steed were lost. His squire was drowned.
Save for their succour had he also died.
The raiment that he lacked their huts supplied:
Food had they given, and warmth, and kindly care.
His name they knew not: "But was plain to see
A man of mighty heart and thews is he,
The strong to order, or the weak to spare.
Even he laughed our lord's dread name to hear.
"Give me a rest," he said, "and find a spear,
And he shall learn that knights of Arthur ride
By any road they will."
"If knight he be,"
Sir Tristram said, "of Arthur's court, belike
I met him once at Camelot. Bring him here,
And I will tell ye."
"Yea," the damsel said,
"Here bring him, and we raise the bolder head
If Naban find us."
When the night had gone
And through the woods a cloudless morning shone,
They brought him. Clad in fisher's weeds was he,
Yet none might question of his high degree,
Who watched his motions in that garb.
Sir Tristram said, "fair knight, is plain to see
Hard fortune hast thou had, and yet to me
The likeness of thy fairer days remains."
"I may be known by those I do not know."
"So may we all; and thy true name to show
I charge thee in good faith, for all our gains."
"Art thou Sir Naban? Of his part or no?"
"Nay, by the tales I hear, I call him foe."
"My name is Lamorack."
"That before I knew."
"Then tell me whom thou art thyself."
"He who caused my Cornish shame,
And would not meet me on firm earth to try
What different fate had been?"
"That did not I
From greed of vantage gained, nor fear of thee,
But all was meant in grace and courtesy,
For thou wast worn by striving. Yet was paid
That kindness in a coin of baser die,
For that false horn that Morgan's craft had made
Was sent to Cornwall of a set design
To do me evil, at no doubtful guess."
"I will not surely that I did deny.
But this I answer: Should the choice be mine
Once more, I would, and not in wantonness,
Do as I did, because, as all men know,
The honour of the court of Mark is not
As that of Arthur."
"That I know full well.
Still was thy malice to myself, and so
I might requite thine evil, yet, God wot,
I was not greatly hurt; and now should we
Put malice wholly from our hearts, to see
How, and soon, this Naban's pride may be
Abashed, and in his place a gentler set."
"Now," said Sir Lamorack, "that before I heard
I witness of thy ways magnanimous;
And gladly will I of my part forget
All that I once misdeemed of deed or word,
Repenting that I ever held thee thus,
And largelier of mine own discourtesy."
So to accord they came, as well may be
When those of noble hearts, whom wraths divide,
Recall their honour, and forget their pride.
Sir Naban called a tournament. His son
To knighthood's age had reached, and all should see
And feast his entering to that high degree;
And mark the day with deeds of valiance done.
All for this hour, from every realm around,
Might enter Servage. All who dwelt therein,
Unless by crippling hurt or sickness bound,
Must make assemblage to exalt the day.
"We dare not further, lest our lives should pay,
Conceal that here ye lurk," the knights were told.
"But, in the freedom of this tourney bold,
Rebukeless may ye walk the where ye will,
So that ye witness and applaud the play."
And Tristram answered: "That belike we may.
And haply with a further word to say,
Even for thy lord to heed."
Unarmed they went
To watch the marshal of that tournament,
But, as its clarions were about to blow,
Before its lord's high seat Sir Lamorack stood.
"I am a knight misfortunate, that I go
Unarmed, but had I steed and harness good,
None may be here I need too greatly dread."
"Fellow," the burly lord of Servage said,
"Or strong or weak, and be thou knight or no,
Thou shalt not miss thy sport, and nor will we,
Either a boastful churl well cast to see,
Or proud knights humbled by a baser spear."
No lack of harness or good steeds is here.
Choose from my stable and mine armoury,
And the first challenge shall be called for thee."
Mirth moved that concourse as the word was spread.
"A churl gives challenge to the knights," they said.
"It is Sir Naban's jest, good sport to show."
But others: "Yet he looks a likely man.
And should he danger to their overthrow
His mockers, blither yet our sport would be."
"Nay, but is none, since knighthood's use began,
To joust unpractised, but to earth he fall."
But at the barriers soon was silence all
As Lamorack, sheathed in shining armour now,
And on such steed as could his weight sustain,
Bent to the charge. A strong Northumbrian knight,
Thinking perchance a light success to gain,
Against him rode, but crashed, and knew not how
His failure came, so hard to earth he fell.
And while the shouting barriers yet were loud,
Lamorack again, as lightening cleaves the cloud
Deadly and swift some massive oak to tear,
Countered the next and cast.
Short tale to tell,
So through the morning hours, till noon was there,
He conquered all who came.
Sir Naban sate
Biting his nails, and in his eyes irate
Black purpose grew. If knave or knight were here,
Alike was insult. Should one spear confound
All Servage? Should the talk, wide realms around,
For many a year with tears of laughter tell
Sir Naban's tourney, where a fifty fell
Before a nameless churl's rough mastery?
Worn would he by high noon, and breathless be,
And then would Naban from his seat arise,
From ample shoulders cast his cloak away,
Bare his huge bulk, and call for arms, and say
That he for Servage would redeem the day.
How should this blusterer, tired with taking blows,
To his fresh strength sufficient strength oppose
His life to guard? "Fellow," Sir Naban said,
"Have but one bout with me. Should that be won,
I name thee the victor, and the tourney done."
"That will I lightly."
"Lifts thy pride so high?
I chase thee backward to thy native sty."
So to the field he came. But when they met
Low in the rest a caitiff spear he set
That not at Lamorack aimed, but pierced the throat
Of the good steed he rode. Sir Lamorack rose,
And in his ears a mocking laughter rang.
Down came the giant to ground. His sword outswang.
Before Sir Lamorack's shield was dressed, he smote
So hard that from the helm the hot sparks flew.
Wood wrath was Lamorack, yet he soothly knew
How dire his danger. Making short retreat,
He freed his sword, and raised his shield to meet
A boisterous tempest of descending blows.
"Fellow," Sir Naban, as he lashed him, said,
"Die wilt thou surely, as thy steed is dead,
Except ye kneel to plead my grace, and take
The wage that to my stable knaves I pay."
"You boast belike too soon, but were I dead,
Short time for triumph would thy life allow.
I have good comrades who thy bane would be."
"Why," laughed Sir Naban, "are there more? Perde,
Of this churls' harvest would I reap the crop.
If one hath heart to help thee, stand aside.
But well I warn thee that hard blows to bide
Must be his portion ere the tempest stop
For talk of mercy to himself or thee."
Then Tristram from the barrier called: "A sword
I ask, and how it fall will proof afford
Of him who boasts too high."
Sir Naban turned
Deriding eyes. "A likely knave," he said.
"Fellow, in yon pavilion swords enough,
And other harness of good proof are spread.
Choose that thou wilt, and if the play be rough
It will be only that thy choice hath earned."
Sir Tristram armed him, but a steed declined.
"It were to ride it to its death," said he.
Sir Naban laughed: "Is here a craftful hind,
Who knows his limit. Less the toil for me,
Who need not mount again. It spares delay.
Now, fellow, heave thy sword, and play thy play."
He asked for that which did not pause. Aloft
The sword of Tristram's choice wide-circling rose,
And swept to meet him. Shifting shields oppose
The flashing tireless blades, that hard and oft
Down-beat them, and on helm and shoulder ring.
Soon, to his wrath, Sir Naban marvelling found
He faced a foe who gave nor grace nor ground,
But gave good measure in that bartering.
Backward he stepped: "A moment's space," he said,
"I charge thee tell me who in truth thou art."
"Tristram of Lyonesse is my name."
By thy churl's garb was I. But ere we part
I think to pay thee. Save Sir Lancelot,
Is none I would more gladly meet."
Sir Tristram answered, but his sword replied.
Wholly from Naban's arm the shield it shore,
Nor stayed, but through the woven mail it tore,
Sinking too deeply in the blusterer's side
For life to last.
But as he sank and died,
Came from the crowd a cry: "Beware! Beware!"
And Tristram turned in haste, and nigh too late.
For Naban's son, new-knighted, faced him there,
His virgin sword for the unknightly blow
"Learned ye knighthood so?
Then for its honour should thy days be few."
As Tristram spake, a sudden shield he threw
Upward to turn the blade, and thrusting through
The unpractised knight's too-open guard, he gave
Such wound that never leech the life could save
Of him who felt it.
Round he looked to view
How those of Servage took this deed, and knew
That well they thought it. Clamorous praise arose,
Not only from the foreign throng, but those
Who leigance to Sir Naban owed. For he
Had ruled by fear, and love's high loyalty
He had not sought.
"Be thou our lord," they cried,
"For else, now Naban and his heir have died,
We were but lordless for the strong to prey."
Answered Sir Tristram: "Though thy lord I slew,
Tired was he surely by the strife before.
And he who all the weight of tourney bore
Should take alike the garner of the day."
But Lamorack: "Nay, I will not more. I owe
Enough already to the courtesy
Which spared me at our meeting first, and though
I paid thee in such base coin, thy grace to me
Gave rescue now, when, very sooth to say,
I was too wearied for his boisterous play.
Take that the sword hath earned; or else may he
Who nursed us at our need so comradely,
When seemed his succour should be guerdonless."
"That yield I gladly; and with gladlier will
Because I wronged him once in wantonness,
And he of noble heart that wrong forgot
When came I suppliant to his tent."
Sir Segwarides answered, "didst thou ill,
It was that temptress whom alike we know
Who thought it first; and this high seigneury,
Which not my valour nor my worth had won,
Outweighs too largely that which once was done.
"Yet must I with good thanks thine almsman be,
The more for that which halves thy debt to me,
For she who shamed us have I left behind,
The difference in her lighter loves to find
From that she did not price. My leman here
(In lawless love more constant and more dear)
Hath taught me to forget the bond I knew.
For stablished here I shall not fear to learn
How cold are strangers' hearths, nor yet return
To her I loved too long."
Thus came that two
Whom Tristram wronged before had large redress,
Which came not of mere chance, but nobleness
Of heart, and generous mood to yield or do.
Peace and good rule to Servage came; and all
Who Naban's violence feared, and hailed his fall
Gave laud to Tristram's name; but how was he
To journey further, who most secretly
Would enter Cornwall?
"Ride awhile with me,"
Sir Lamorack counselled, "till the talk is dead.
And if in Cornwall any word be said,
It will not seem that there your course you bore.
For who shall guess that chasing storm afore
To Servage turned thee? At the later day
You may continue on a landward way,
With sudden venture overseen of none."
So prudence urged it, and reluctantly
Assented Tristram, lest be all fordone.
They crossed a narrow strait of sundering sea
That Servage from the mainland parts. Logre
Lay round them, richly valed and gently hilled.
Its forest wilds were tamed, its fields were tilled.
By Arthur's rule in fertile peace it lay.
Rapine and death were northward, far away,
But came not here, except that tales were told,
As men, when winter's days were dark and cold,
Gathered at night their log-fed fires around:
Tales of fierce strife and valiant ventures done
Where yet were heathen lords or sorcerous found -
The price at which that windless peace was won.
Avoiding Camelot, but without conceal,
Northward they rode by lonelier ways, to feel
The chill of autumn in the morning air,
Though yet its eves were soft, its noons were fair
As Severn's ford they passed, and westward bore
For that wild land which Pellinor ruled of yore,
And now was parted for his sons to share.
"Ride softly," Lamorack to Sir Tristram said,
"Steel in the sunlit boskage gleams ahead."
Forward they sent a squire the fact to find,
And rode alert with levelled spears behind.
Another twain they found, as ware as they.
"Why lurk ye thus beside the vacant way?"
"We seek ye not. We wait a wrong to pay.
We wait a knight our brother dear who slew.
Hereby he cometh at noon."
"What knight is he?"
"It is Sir Lancelot."
"Then for hard ado
Your hearts are set. He will not blench for two,
Nor for a dozen of such knights as ye,
Should all assail him."
"That is yet to see."
"So would we soothly."
"Pray ye, onward ride."
"Then so we shall."
A further mile they rode,
And met Sir Lancelot. When were greetings said,
They warned him: "Forward ware two knights who bide
To do thee evil."
"Well, with God is all."
"Halt we," Sir Tristram said. "What chance befall
I would not miss."
They watched Sir Lancelot ride
The shaws between as though no bout to bide
He feared or thought. But from the ambushed side
No spear shone forward. As he passed away,
Sir Tristram to the place returned, and they
Who spake so boldly still were there: "Perde,"
He told them, "of such craven sort ye be
As shames all knighthood."
"Dost thou witly blame
Thine own reproof, from which our caution came?"
On went Sir Lamorack, for his home was near,
But Tristram and Key Hedius halted here,
Their eager thoughts to Cornwall turned again.
Lone path they chose, and with a slender train
Rode southward for wide Severn's estuary.
But far they rode not through that woodland way
Till one there came at speed, her horse who turned,
That those who could not pass perforce must stay.
No haste was in her voice, but that she said
Was instant in demand: "If glory earned,
Or noble service be thy goal, I claim
Your swords, the kingliest in the world to save."
"Fair one," Sir Tristram said, "if whom ye name
Be equal to thy praise, or knight or knave,
A sword not backward for his need have I."
"If fail thy succour will King Arthur die."
"Now Heaven defend! In what strange jeopardy
Can the high lord of all our kingdoms be?"
"His need," said Nimue, "for a longer word
The time forbids."
She swung her horse, and spurred
Down the long aisle the meeting boughs below.
Hard rode Sir Tristram on her trace, and so
They came to where a widening glade revealed
A tower, that rather on those woods relied
Than on its strength of morticed stone for shield,
Should those intent on rape or plunder ride
From the wild hills that still the might defied
Of Arthur's juster rule.
In this retreat,
With two strong knights a sudden need to meet,
The Lady Annwe dwelt. The sort was she
Who lived by lust, and wrought by sorcery
That lust to feed. Not Morgan's glamorous art
Contrived more evil. As a snake will start
From summer grass the heedless heel to bite,
So would she on some unregarding knight
Her thoughts direct. While peril naught he knew,
The trammels round him of her spells she threw,
And true love failed, and honour fenceless fell.
Now boldly had she wrought by lure and spell,
Even at Caerleon, while the king was there.
At Arthur's self she aimed. If sooth it were
That wizard art alone his strength subdued,
Or idle days in some ignoble mood
His honour lightly to her lust betrayed,
Who knoweth? But the craftful snare she laid
She left the court, and he pursued
In secret haste. Yet when her tower he gained,
And she, who first perverse refusal feigned,
In swift reverse to amorous softness fell,
He changed alike. For then to guard him came
Those powers who by the arts we may not name
From birth had shielded whom their sleights begot.
Then, when she wooed and he consented not
- His longing to his own fair queen returned -
With foiled desire and bitter hate she burned,
And roused her knights against him.
Strength and craft
Were theirs, but knightly use they did not know.
Half-armed they caught him, while their lady laught
As one applauding at a tourney show
The deadly strife to which one end must be.
Against two knights at once, no shield had he;
And no good sword, however featly swayed,
May parry other than a single blade.
Both sides at once the caitiff knights assailed,
And while to right the ready sword availed,
And oversmote the hewing stroke it met,
To left as deadly was the stroke he let,
Which on his helm so hardly rang that he
Came sideward to the ground on hand and knee.
To rise he strove, but blow succeeding blow
Down beat him till his helm to earth was low.
Death came, it seemed, too close for rescuing.
But Annwe stayed her knights: "To slay the king
Be mine alone." A knight's long sword she took
In hands that seemed too light its weight to brook,
But as with ease she held it; and her look
Was venomed on the fallen, while it sought
The gorget's loosest brace, that opening gave
A fatal thrust to deal.
But as she thought
To work that treason, ere the point she drave,
She heard Sir Tristram. Swift to earth he sprang.
Through the cleft air his sword its purpose sang.
Even as she turned her gaze the deathful blade
Swept through her neck, and held its course unstayed,
While the shorn head leapt like bouncing ball,
And deep bracken hid it.
Naught its fall
Sir Tristram heeded, but in close pursuit
Her hirling knights he chased, for fast they fled,
But not so fast that to the gate they won.
Lightly he slew them, while his sword's best fruit
Did Nimue raise: "Not yet its use is done."
Before her saddle-bow the traitress' head
By its long hair she hung: "Caerleon shall see
What comes when treason works by sorcery."
Slow rose the king and dazed. But wit remained
For thanks to those his perilled life who gained:
"For this fair deed," he said, "I would not fail
To give large guerdon. Yea, I would not tale
The gold to thy content my hand should give,
Which still would leave a debt too large to pay."
"I have no need of gold, nor count it much,
Nor worthy of large gifts such scum to slay.
We need but clean our swords who slaughter such,
And turn our thoughts toward some princelier play."
"I would thy name."
"My name I would not say.
But, if thou wilt, I ride thy backward way
With these my friends who come behind, until
Those of thy court, as soon we must, we meet,
And safe thou art from any following ill."
So rode they southward in one company;
And Arthur reined to Nimue's side, and said:
"I marvel whom this nameless knight may be.
For, by all signs, of Cornwall's court is he,
And Tristram only - "
"Nay," said Nimue,
"How should I know it, if he would not tell?"
"I ask unknightly, and you answer well."
When at Caerleon the knights of Arthur knew
His place was vacant, in short hour they rose
To search through Usk's wild vale, and further through
The wilder lands which blacker mountains close.
So rose Brandiles first, and Lancelot,
With others whom the later tale forgot,
Among them, Ector.
Riding lone was he
When Tristram with his train and Nimue
Came with the noise such numbers make. They came
With sound of trampling feet, and bursts of song,
Down from the hills, a narrow path along.
Sir Ector's leopards, lithe and fierce as flame,
Sir Tristram knew, but in more doubt was he
Who had no thought in such a company
The king to meet, nor those he might not name
In that known land to counter.
"Dost thou ride
In Arthur's peace?" He asked.
"In Arthur's peace,"
Sir Tristram answered, "doth our freedom bide.
Yet wouldst thou in fair bout thy strength release,
The sward is level at the copsewood side."
"Thou art not of the Table?"
"Nay, not I."
"Then am I of good heart to prove thy pride."
Short words sufficed where both alike would try
A test unfeared. On the near sward they met.
Hard jolt Sir Tristram felt, but harder yet
Sir Ector fell, and ere his feet he gained
Tristram to Arthur rode: "Lord king, is here
A knight most valiant of thine own, and so
Forgive that to my former road I go,
For hindered am I on a quest most dear."
"Fair knight, the more I thank thee, and the more
Entreat to know thee."
"By thy pardon, nay.
The less my name be known, the fairer day
I think to find."
"Then God, Who all can see,
For thy good deed thy long companion be."
So with fair words they parted. Short the way
Sir Tristram rode in peace. At fall of day
Through the dark woods a noise they heard, as though
A score of hounds were in full-throated cry.
Deep-hidden from their sight, a beast went by
- For single beast it was - through brushwood low
That forced its way where never steed could go,
So that who chased it must be turned aside,
And oft was near, but never quite espied.
Near by the sound: yet never quite so near
That he might reach it with a thrusting spear.
Once Pellinor for this beast glatisant
(For in his kingdom was its frequent haunt)
Sought long and tirelessly, through night and day,
Till men his quest would call it; but he came
No nearer than the slim lithe form to see
Shaped like a leopard, and the eyes of flame
That in its serpent's head malignantly
Glowed as it turned a backward glance.
Bellowing, and after came a knight who drew
Short rein as he beheld them. Tristram knew
Well the black shield that Palomides bore.
But Palomides knew not whom he met.
"Wilt joust?" Said Tristram.
"Surely. Seldom yet
Have I made cavil such chance to try,"
Sir Palomides answered, confident
These wandering wayside knights to overset.
"Allow that first I ride," Key Hedius said,
And Tristram granted. But a fall had he
From which he rose not.
"Guard thee!" Tristram said.
His heart was doubtless to abate the pride
Of that strong victor. But the stroke he dealt
The Paynim dured, the while himself he felt
Such buffet that to humbling earth he fell.
So was it shown that never knight so high
His crest may bear, nor do his part so well,
But in the lowly dust his vaunt shall lie,
Or late or soon.
The strength that anger gave
Raised Tristram slowly from no gentle fall.
But nothing might he do his pride to save,
For Palomides, with no thought at all
The wayside challenge to regard, went on
The crying beast to seek, that far had gone
While these two courses had been tried.
The wounded Key upon his failing shield,
And bore him to a forest lodge that stood
In the dense covert of the mighty wood,
Which yet the red autumnal boughs concealed.
Meantime Sir Lamorack to his father's tower
Had ridden, not thinking of a likely foe
In that mid-eyrie of De Galis' power
Nor seemed it that the Table knight was so,
Whom lonely at a wayside shrine he met.
A young knight, and of splendid strength was he,
And royally born: King Baudemagus' son,
Sir Meligraunt, whose hopeless eyes were set
On Arthur's queen, who might not constant be
Her vows to keep, but evil use had none
For random lusts or infidelity.
Yet was his folly unrestrained to show
How passion moved his heart, and here to say
In words which all might hear, that soon would she
Relent her coldness, and his love would be.
"For she is fairest of the world," he said,
"Alike of damsels or of ladies wed.
There is none other of a close compare."
"Sir," said Sir Lamorack, "each for each is fair,
And whom you praise would no good knight decry.
Yet there be other queens high praise to share;
And different choice in Orkney's queen have I."
Wrath moved Sir Meligraunt: "Now wouldst thou dare
A foolish word defend?"
"Yea, that would I."
"Then in a better cause I could not die,
Who shall not, as I think."
In cooler mood,
And yet as constant to his own conceit,
Sir Lamorack answered, as to ground he came:
"Well, as thou wilt. The Queen Morgause I name
As loveliest of all ladies, and most sweet,
Between the frozen north and Afric's heat,
From furthest Orient to the shoreless sea."
"Next, if thou wilt, but first she may not be.
That will I prove upon thee."
Swords were bare
As thus they spake; and soon the yielding air
Such strokes allowed as waked rebellious flame
From shield and helm. Bold front Sir Lamorack met,
And strength that most might dread. But strokes as hard,
And aimed and timed with more exact regard
Ever to where and with what force they fell
He gave relentless, till, short tale to tell,
To those who watched, the coming end was sure.
But when doth aught to looked-for end conclude?
As seemed Sir Meligraunt to more endure
Lacked all but resolution, came the sound
Of many hoofbeats on the hardened ground.
Lancelot and Bleoberis, reining, viewed
A closing strife, and asked them why they fought,
Who both were Christian knights of Arthur's court.
To which they answered truly; and thereat
Lancelot to Lamorack spake: "What praise belongs
To Arthur's knight his gracious queen who wrongs,
To call her less than those who loveliest are?
Now strength be mine that high pretence to mar,
Though he may be too weak who fronts thee now!"
Down from the saddle he came. His sword he drew.
But Lamorack paused: "I would not strive anew
With any knight of worth, and least with you,
Whom most I honour. That I said before
I will not alter, and again I say.
Yet shouldst thou think that that all knighthood may:
Each whom he loves to serve and worship more
Than any other who may fairest be."
Then Bleoberis gave his word's support:
"My lord Sir Lancelot, as of right he ought
He speaks. My lady is the most to me,
And well we wot Sir Lamorack's worth, and know
Friend hath he been to us, and constant foe
To those who vex Logre. From Arthur's side
I pray thee that no rash offence divide
Pellinor's strong sons."
And Lancelot answered: "Yea,
I spake in haste, and as I knightly may
I will amend it "
Said Sir Lamorack: "Nay,
Amends between us twain were short to say."
There came to Cornwall on the wandering wind
Of rumour, ere the reddening leaves had thinned,
Word of the marriage of Tristram. At the meal,
Mark told it, smiling; glancing while he spake
At her whom seldom now his words could wake
To either aught deny or aught reveal;
And she, from long resolve of suffering wise,
Heard him, and gave no sign from guarded eyes.
But when the night came, and alone she lay
(For Mark and she were wholly parted now),
And heard beneath her from the rock-bound bay
That which God knoweth that the waters say
In the long strife they may not lose nor win,
She looked upon the end of old delight,
The night of love before its natural night,
And saw that in her hands the verdict lay,
Either its fairness with reproach to slay,
Or close it in the wiser, nobler way,
That memory, if no more, might yet remain
Without the cloud of discord's final stain.
So at the morn she wrote. Her words she chose
With the high courage of her gentleness,
Her changeless love to in such sort express
As would not with a late reproach oppose
His freedom's choice; but in fair words allow
His fealty where she deemed he owed it now:
"Think not because I hear, and hold it true,
Another knows the love that once I knew,
I therefore with resenting thoughts regard
The path of separate days too hopeless-hard;
And all that hath been by refusal so
Degrade from that dear height that both we know.
"Shamed am I. Surely were I shamed the more
If I should cease to love thee. Deeper yet
If in this life made separate might I cease
Desiring thine advantage: might I dare,
Because my lonelier life is waste and bare,
Device of bitter words to vex thy peace;
Or seek, while distance mocks, and hope is dead,
To bind thee to me by a broken thread.
Think not I doubt that other loves are true;
Nor dream because I love thee need I hate
Her who doth for thee what I may not do.
"For though to me remain but arms that fall
Empty, and sightless eyes, and after all
The weary night the ever wearier day,
Shall I not thank God therefor? Shall I not
Find refuge, dwelling in the unforgot,
The unforgettable days when first we met?
"Doubt I for all my loss that ever need
Of mine should call thee vainly? Ever change
Thy loving-kindness toward me? Aught divide,
Or aught estrange, whatever else may be?
For still, through all, the constant memory stays
Of the swift passing of those dearer days
Before you left me lonely. This believe:
Never for all my grief regret shall grieve
That once you loved as few of earthly men
Have equalled ever. As you loved me then,
Reproachless in my heart, I love thee now."
This missive to Dame Bragwaine's care she gave,
Thinking to send it, by Sir Dinas' aid,
When journey should be made to Brittany
By one he trusted. But a shorter road
Sufficed to reach Sir Tristram's hand, for he
With Hedius, and his train, most secretly,
Had landed on the Cornish coast, and rode
Through the dark night at speed to Dinas' hold.
For knew he Dinas, in his prudent way,
Might meet him with closed gates, but not betray
Who sought his shelter.
Than his most thought he had. For Dinas now,
Having good friends in those whom least the king
Could rule, and who would least his worth allow
(For, as the years went by, his friends were less
Alike in numbers and in nobleness),
Feared not to deal as better choice preferred,
And met Mark's anger with an equal word.
Than Mark to him, much more to Mark was he,
Alike by prudence and by probity.
Now Tristram and his train he welcomed well,
And friendship's freedom used to ask and tell
Of all things that had been since last they met.
Iseult was guarded in too close a net
(He said) to reach her by a light contrive.
But as on that Sir Tristram's heart was set,
Caution might compass much, and purpose thrive
Even in Tintagel's towers, where all men met
With trustless eyes and treacherous wits, alive
To cast suspicion on a natural deed.
For friends were his of better sort, and some
Were faithful to the queen; and none might heed
How those who served himself might leave or come.
Disguise, and silence, and a moonless night
- The nights were lengthening now - perchance they might.
Prudent, but not faint-hearted, weighed he thus
A desperate chance, which yet for friendship's sake
He would not shun, and while they held debate,
There came the letter that Iseult had writ,
By Bragwaine brought, and Tristram, reading it,
Was moved so greatly by desire to see
And comfort whom he loved, that naught would he
Hear more of counsel that allowed delay.
Then rode they swiftly at the fall of day,
And to Tintagel entered secretly
To the strait compass of a single tower
In which Iseult was lodged; and only they
Of her own service entered through the day,
Though from the noontide to the midnight hour,
And from the midnight to the noon again
Its stair was guarded, by Dame Bragwaine's wile,
Who practised for one moment to beguile
Those who grew careless by long use. Unseen,
Tristram and Hedius came, and found the queen.
Not only words of careful art were vain
To tell their joys whose lips were joined again
After the forfeiture of hopeless days,
But no man even to himself may tell,
Excepting only he have loved as well,
And borne the burden of divided ways.
And who, since sorrow taught men's hearts to pray,
Who, in love's regiment, have loved as they?
So in that joy, as one to Heaven arrived,
Tristram remained through days that autumn dyed
With crimson through the woods. (For beauty goes
Reluctant from the land: the fallen rose
The haw succeeds.) But that which sleight contrived
Could not be varied. Here was safe to hide,
But not to issue and return; and so,
While to her outer calls the queen must go,
Lest doubt bring danger, Tristram lonely stayed,
Planning an outrage bold, to all evade,
Or all fling off, and bear her, gladly free,
Where Arthur's rule sufficient shield should be
From Mark's most rancour. So the days went by.
But what of Hedius? Not the dear delight
Of love's close bondage with the close of night
Was his to reckon through the lengthened day.
But ever where he ate or where he lay
Either Iseult herself he watched anigh,
Or on the darkness would her eyes be bright,
Her smile be kind; till love's imperious call
He heard, her tender grace to gain. Should all
Seen loveliest in two realms to Tristram fall?
The Queen of Cornwall here: his sister there.
And this Iseult - if false to Mark she were,
Why should she be to lighter leigance true?
"Is she not peerless?" Tristram asked, and he
Gave welcome answer: "Of all times are few
Most lauded of report, who would not be
Unseen beside her."
"Dost thou blame me now?"
"I do not blame thee."
Tristram turned content.
But to his narrow room Key Hedius went,
And wrote such words as love unreined will write,
If fault of honour their release allow:
"Such torment for thy hands, thy lips, have I -
Grant me some favour, lest for grief I die."
This letter, lonely to Iseult conveyed,
She read with wonder. Did he fail to see
Her love for Tristram? Then her heart dismayed
Saw further. Was her lost fidelity
To Mark a signal to the minds of men
That honour's barriers were not closed for her?
Those who are false to one, love's deeds to do,
How should they scruple to be false to two?
How should it by strange minds be understood
That she was wanton in no random way?
To face Key Hedius was her heart too shy.
From warring thoughts she wrote unwise reply,
Where more persuasion than reproof was said;
And ere she sent it, Tristram found the scroll,
And of its meaning much his heart misread,
But not Key Hedius' perfidy.
Wrath stirred him past restraint, its fruit of dole
Long months to bear. No word he said to her
But sought Key Hedius: "Ere thy death, confess
Thy treason to me."
"If I love no less
Mark's queen than thou dost, am I treasoned so?"
"Thinkst thou that thou shouldst live her love to know?"
Out came his sword. No moment's thought had Key
To meet his anger. By the short delay
A swung door gave, he gained the winding stair,
Leapt down it, and the startled guards were ware
That one rushed past them whom they scantly saw,
And one in hot pursuit behind him came,
At whom they smote too late, and did not draw
His eyes to heed them, or his haste delay.
Sir Key, to whom Tintagel's towers were strange,
And all men hostile, fled with no sure aim
Of exit or conceal. A door stood wide.
He found a vacant chamber. At one side
There was a broad-silled window, wide and low
And open. Heedless to what end he went,
With Tristram close behind, incontinent
He leapt therethrough.
Beneath a terrace lay,
Held private for the king, where only those
Whom for his hours of sport or rest he chose
Might enter. Here the chess-board's wily play
He waged with Andret. On the table crashed
A leaping man, and overturned it. Dazed
And bruised he rose; while Mark, alarmed, amazed,
Wrenched out his sword, and would have blindly lashed
At whom he knew not. But Sir Andret stood
Between them: "Tell us what this means," he said.
And Hedius, as one dazed and wildered still,
Made halting answer: "On the open sill
I slept, methinks, and fell."
The likely lie
Acceptance for the moment gained, and ere
Should further query probe of whom he were,
Key Hedius fled those threatening towers. To know
That Mark was less than friend, and Tristram foe,
Had winged the pace of bolder feet to fly.
Meanwhile had Tristram downward looked, and seen
That Hedius talked with Mark. He could not hear
What words were said; but be they what they might,
They could not loose him from his threatful plight.
How should he past the guards rejoin the queen?
What hope was his but in most urgent flight?
With lack of lance and steed it needs must be.
But boldly through the outer wards went he,
Unchallenged. Safety oft is lightlier won
From dangers that we face than those we shun.
Free was he, nor pursuit behind he heard.
But what was freedom, whilst his heart was stirred
By doubt and misery, and reproach which said
That hasteful anger had his life misled?
For either had Iseult been false, or else
His wrath, misreading, had their joys fordone,
With all his hope to bear her forth; and so
Was here no comfort, but a choice of woe.
If to the younger knight her heart had veered,
Against Key Hedius now were barrier none.
Or if from doubt so base love's skies were cleared,
What could he feel but passion-wild remorse
Whose folly brought to both so large a loss?
Not to Tintagel might he dare return,
Yet would not leave it, lurking near to learn
How fared Iseult. And when a knight he met,
Sir Fergus, one who owed too large a debt
For light refusal, of his courtesy,
He prayed him to enquire how thrived the queen,
And what the sequel to his flight had been.
Short time Sir Fergus took, and tale as short
Was his to tell. He heard of Hedius naught.
But ill, and nigh to death, Queen Iseult lay,
Or so men said, with nothing sure to say.
For doubled were her guards, and none might go
Out from her tower or in, except he show
An order from the king.
Sir Tristram heard.
But gave no sign thereof, nor answering word.
Only as one whose use of life was done,
He turned, and wandered blindly. Warmth of sun,
Or cold of autumn night, to seek or shun,
No care remained. Upon the unfriending ground,
Exhausted at the last, some swineherds found,
And kindly tended whom they did not know.
But naught he thanked them. And a damsel came
With orders from the lady of the land,
Seeking these herds, who paused, and asked his name,
Seeing with wonder one so formed and clad
Consorting with them, but the hinds replied:
"We know not. Tendence naught nor food he had
When thus we found him to cold ground allied,
Dew-drenched, nor seemed he of our aid aware.
He either doth not heed or doth not care."
Back to her lady with this tale she went.
"A goodly man - most like Sir Tristram he -
And by his raiment one of good degree,
Lies with the swineherds, being tranced with woe,
Or so it seemeth."
"Tristram all would know."
"Well, so I thought him."
"Bring the harp he lent,
When in light hour a jocund song he taught
My simpler art to play."
The harp was brought.
They bore it through the woods, and Tristram there
They found, and meat and drink his strength to save
They laid around him, but he heeded naught.
Yet when the harp she touched, and waked again
The song he taught her, from the ground he rose,
And took it from her offering hands, and struck
A different weirder, sadder, wilder strain,
A music pregnant with the whole world's pain,
Despairing at the gates of life and God,
At the closed gates, where any prayer is vain,
And wailing into silence.
"That," he said,
"Is Earth's long protest to the headless skies,
Where no love lights, nor any mercy lies,
But cold repluse, whatever tears be shed."
"Nay, lord," she answered, "that which grief may say
Is known for treason on a brighter day:
Faint-hearted doubt, which better faith denies."
As one by pain possessed, or grief distraught,
He heard not, or he heard and answered naught.
Andret in Cornwall kept a secret dame
As paramour, and these apart contrived
Such plot that to the court of Mark she came
As stranger from a wandering path arrived.
She told with tears a piteous tale of how
In nameless woods a dying knight she met
Friendless and lone, that on bare ground he lay.
The day she found him was his parting day,
And kindly death for his near friend he knew.
Thereat he spake his name, and charged her bear
His dying message to King Mark, that he
Was Lyonesse lord, Sir Tristram; as his heir
(For at death's door he felt no enmity)
He named Sir Andret; and King Mark he sued
His cousin's right to further. So she said;
For Andret thought that Tristram, likely dead,
Was else far wandering, and the chance was his
To seize a kingdom by this wile pursued.
King Mark believed and pondered: "Much," he said,
"My throne was buttressed by his might." The hate
He felt toward the living left the dead.
But Iseult wept upon her lonely bed
Vain tears that no way might her loss abate,
Nor lead to consolation. Tears she shed
Till tears were dry. And then a sword she took,
And bore in secret to an orchard nook
Where she and Tristram once, in happier days,
Had found that height of bliss which time betrays.
"Jesu," she prayed, "forgive the life I spill,
For he was my love first, and my love still
Hath been and shall be. Wherefor must I tread
Along the path he leads me, live or dead.
For life before: for death I thank Thee now."
Then on the low fork of a leaning bough
Level to her heart the sword she fixed. To run
On the sharp point she aimed, and all were done.
But Mark, who watched, and heard her while she prayed,
Seized her in stronger hands than hers could be.
"Would ye such end?" He laughed, and snapt the blade.
"Forget the dead, for life again with me."
He closed her in her tower, and watched her well,
While lay she in such grief no words can tell,
Still nigh that gate she did not seek to flee.
Meanwhile Sir Tristram, in his naked rage,
Wit-wandering still, a humble hermitage
Found in the wood, and in its sheltering lay.
The hermit there returned at fall of day,
And found him sleeping, and against his hand
His sword was bare.
The hermit mused: 'I see
A woeful wildness here, and if to me
He wake a friend, or blind and furious foe,
I may not tell; and that I do not know
I will not chance, though surely friend am I.'
He took the sword, which in the brake he hid,
And meat he brought, which in its place he laid.
Sir Tristram hungering waked. Good meal he made.
Such service for his needs that hermit did
That there content for ten days space he stayed,
Dimly aware of that which round him lay.
There was a knight to Cornwall's court who came,
Sir Dinant, with a lady at his side.
They brought a tale of terror. "Both had died,"
- So said they - "but that one we may not name
Gave wondrous rescue. On the Tamer's bank
We rested. Of the flowing stream we drank,
And made good banquet of the swineherds' fare
A groat had bought us. Chill the autumn air,
And short our sojourn, while the horses stood
Tied near us, at the border of the wood.
"But as we rose, out-issuing thence we saw
A monster, past the height and girth of man,
Who came between us and the steeds. To draw
A useless sword was scantly time."
He struck the sword to earth, and roughly caught
Sir Dinant by the neck, and soon his head
With a huge knife he held had sliced away.
But from the thicket shade was one that ran,
Naked of arms, but loud he shouted: "Stay!
Or surely for his life thy life shall pay."
The giant laughed thereat. "I need thee not.
Yet should I thank thy legs, that so provide
Another for the spit, to roast and flay."
No word to this the naked knight replied,
(If knight he were who such a rescue tried.
A deed most knightly.) But the fallen sword
He snatched, and as the monster's grasp withdrew
From Dinant's neck, he thrust it upward, through
The unguarded armpit, such a wound to give
That he who felt it should be short to live.
The monster spouting blood, and bellowing rage,
Swept with his knife one wide avoided blow,
And stumbled in his stride, and sank full low,
Rose to his knees, and in that posture died.
For, as he purposed for Dinant, his wage
Was fairly paid. The bright sword circling came
To meet a neck that now at all men's height
Was guardless shown. The gross head leapt aside
From the huge shoulders. Were he knave or knight
Who dealt that stroke, full many a knight of name
Had failed it. But his own they could not say.
As from a sportive mime, he slipped away
Through woods too tangled for pursuit, and they,
Rescued from such extreme, no more could do
Than lift the ponderous head, and bring it where
It would the truth of such a tale declare
As else were doubtful.
Mark the grisly neck
Turned upward: "Smoothly at a single blow
Shorn was it surely. Such a knave to know
Well would I, and to hold a porter's place
At the main gate would hire him. Tell me where
This headless monster lies."
And when they told
He said no more, but called next morn a chase
To rouse the deer along the Tamer's side.
But when the stag was found, he did not ride
Where the hooves sounded, and the full pack cried,
But sought apart, and on the trampled ground
Bones scattered, of a monstrous size, he found,
On which the wolves had fed.
'The tale was true;
And likely lurks the madman near,' he thought.
'I would not meet him, save in peace.'
The swineherds by the sound of rooting swine,
And asked them: "Whom do these cold woods contain
Equal to slay him whose huge bones remain
In proof that more than natural strength had he?"
"Lord," they replied, "is little tale to tell,
But that most wondrous. In these woods doth dwell
A man of comely and most gentle mien,
As ever in a kingly court were seen,
Yet arms or any crest he doth not bear.
Nor seemeth that hard ground, or wintry air,
His frame regards. But as of naught aware,
And seeing surely what we do not see,
Through the long hours he lies, or seldomly,
At sight of weakness or of need, he wakes
To gentle succour, or such wrath as takes
Wild tribute from who stirs it.
"Chanced it so
That he who held this land two days ago,
A monster, Talus, (that he bade us live
Was for the fattened swine he made us give)
Had seized a good knight for his bestial prey
- A lady with him - while this wanderer lay
In the near brake, at which he rose and slew.
A marvel were it should Sir Lancelot do
A deed so sudden with a helmless head.
So, by God's mercy, was our torment dead.
And he who slew him to his leafy lair
Retired, as one of nothing else aware
Than the black shadow of his mute despair."
"Where is he now?"
"By yonder oak he lies.
For oft he roams beneath the midnight skies,
And sleeps when pale November sunlight shines
Through the bare larches or the shadowing pines.
Then lay we victuals for his waking need,
Which the dogs touch not."
Mark a bugle blew,
Which called his huntsmen. To the swineherds: "Lead,"
He said, "for he will know ye."
Whom he knew
They had no cause to doubt, for there he lay
Sleeping regardless of or friend or foe,
Nor like to challenge that he did not know.
They brought a litter at the king's command,
And laid him in soft ease, nor might they guess
Whether fair pillows more than wintry mire
He welcomed, or remained in weariness
Indifferent to themselves, or what they did.
But half aware, from sleep to sleep he slid,
His old strength slackened by neglectful ways
He had not long endured the harder days
Save Mark (whatever spiteful purpose hid
In his dark heart) had moved his life to save.
Chance he thought Iseult's proud faith to shame
With sight of one so marred, and sunk so low;
Perchance to cast in some contemptuous grave
One who no service now would heal, and so
With mean dishonour of a lofty name
The memory of immortal deeds to blur.
He ordered: "Bear him to the garth below
The turret chamber of the queen. To her
Say only that a lout she would not know,
Picked by my mercy from his native mire,
Being stricken with some sickness of his kind,
Is laid, warm-wrapped; for later days to hire
Haply as porter or as labouring hind.
One not to fear; nor, lest a stench offend,
Too closely to regard."
These words they spake;
To which, with doubtful eyes, the queen replied:
"More could be said."
"We have no more to say."
She thought: 'What reason to my garth should send
A churl so succoured? For what mercy's sake
Should Mark so practise? Little doubt he lied!'
Yet seeking truth she went a wrongful way.
'It is some foul disease he sends,' she thought,
'By which to slay me.'
"Yet," Dame Bragwaine said,
"The men who bore him came as fearing naught,
Nor hastened as his careful couch they spread."
"Well, go not near."
That night Sir Tristram lay
Beneath cold stars, nor any comfort came
Until the full noon of the following day,
When, with her ladies, through the leafless garth,
Iseult, but holding to the midmost path,
Passed with a glance that reached, but did not see,
Who most she loved. And wildered still was he
By cold and fasting, and the weight of woe
That darkened all his waking hours, and so,
Thoughtless of him, and of himself unthought,
She would have passed, but one beside was there
More than herself alert, and more aware.
For at her side there came a brindled hound
That Tristram gave in happier days, and naught
Would part him from her of free choice, but now,
With one sharp joyful cry, and with one bound,
He reached the sick man's side, and changed his sound
To whimpering protest as so quiet he lay,
And the licked hand was listless.
"Come," she cried.
And with a whining cry the hound replied.
And half he came, and then returned, as though
To tell her that it seemed she did not know.
"It is my lord Sir Tristram," Bragwaine said.
As instant thought Iseult, and fast she sped
To where he lay. Within her heart was fear
Transcending joy. "Mark's malice brought him here
Sick beyond hope, or maimed, or likelier dead."
Sick was he surely. He who Talus' head
Had shorn so featly few short days before,
Moved with swift feet and raised strong arms no more.
Leap of a dying flame that deed had been,
Exhaustant. Now his baffled senses heard
Distant the dear voice of his constant queen
Recall him to the days that change had slain,
And bitter was the chord that memory stirred.
"Come not," he said, "with phantom mockery vain
To rouse those thoughts from whose pursuit I fly.
Delay not with that voice to let me die."
The voice that called, obedient, died away,
For Iseult sank across him, speech and sight
Failing, and falling to an equal night.
Joy that he lived, and grief that there he lay,
So soiled and savaged, brought her God's delay
To pain or pleasure past the extreme bound
Of mortal durance: brought the moment's peace
The slackened pulses know at thought's release.
Long thus she lay, and when she waked again
She waked to clouded joy and livelier fear.
"Hath Mark been told? Are all my ladies here?
Where can he lie? He cannot thus remain.
Oh, Bragwaine, will he live, or must he die?
What purpose had the king? What road of pain
Hath marred him thus, and brought his strength so low?
How is he near me, and he doth not know?"
"Nay, but he knows thee. When thy voice he heard,
Some words he murmured, and his hand he stirred."
"To mine own chamber bear him as ye may."
"Queen, were it wise?"
"What else should wisdom say?
Be sure Mark knoweth whom he laid so near.
Fear must we, but we have no flight from fear.
In that known chamber may his heart revive.
Restore him to his strength, and all may thrive;
But fail we there, we fail in all."
No further doubt allowed, and gentle hands
A litter brought, and softest sheets they spread,
And bore his wasted form, who once had been,
In comeliness and strength and hardihed,
The lordliest that Tintagel's walls contained,
And laid him in Iseult's long-lonely bed.
So much, so little, was the joy she gained.
Hope for his life arose, but fear remained.
Nor was it causeless. All she spake or did
Mark heard. He asked: "He dies?"
"He doth not die."
"Death halts," he thought, "but hath not passed him by,
Knowing my justice will his life forbid."
He said: "We seek the queen." What else he sought
He said not. But with those who held his court,
Andret, and others of the baser sort,
He entered that close garth which only led
To Iseult's solitary tower.
Tristram, whose strength with loving care revived,
And who, with strength regained, resumed control
Of those dark forces which surround the soul,
Seeking its empire when by pain deprived,
Or grief, or passion, of its reason's shield,
Lay resting, from the cold winds wrapped, nearby
To where Mark's bearers first had left him lie.
And Iseult, whose dear lips his hurt had healed,
Sate near him, watching while he slept.
There came the noise of Mark's approaching crew,
And Iseult, with the sudden danger clear,
Moved from him, to divert their eyes. But near
The brindled hound who first his master knew
Lay watchful. Mark he held the natural foe
Of whom he served, with that fine sense to know
A lurking malice which belongs his kind.
Now rose he growling, and with bristling hair.
Sir Andret marked him: "Why, what guards he there?"
Nearer he drew. "Sir Tristram's self is he."
"Nay, but you jest," said Mark, "it could not be."
Feigning rejection of a likeless thing.
But now Sir Tristram rose to face the king.
"Yea, that am I, the outlawed knight ye name.
But not of mine intent or craft I came,
But borne by others while asleep I lay,
Or brought by sickness low. Can that be blame?"
Mark answered: "Not for that, but earlier wrong,
My barons shall their judgement hold." He bade
That Tristram be secured in ward too strong
For outrage to be forced, or rescue made.
And Tristram, who that hour had well forseen,
No violence offered, for his life relied
On those who were his friends, or loved the queen
With loyal hearts. And when the cause was tried
It seemed he had not wholly erred, for though
Andret was cunning for his overthrow,
And Mark's base minions hailed it; yet were they
For better counsel known loud-voiced to say
That Cornwall's honour would be brought too low,
If by their doom they should unmercied slay
One who had served her in such sort as he,
Her neck from Ireland's irking yoke to free.
Fergus of these was loud, and Dinas urged,
With seeming hardness, that the land be purged
By exile of the traitor. Here agreed
Alike the cold friend and the cautious foe,
And Mark, with thwarted hate, the doom decreed
That on the Four Evangelists he swear
Cornwall to leave, and not re-enter there
For ten years' space, for any cause to show.
Even was Andret half appeased thereby,
Thinking. 'As pass the years, the king may die,
And he be distant and condemned, and I
May take a throne left vacant..
They gave him arms. They crowded down the quay
Where lay the ship that for his outlawry
The king provided. Many friends he had
Among the nameless crowd, and these were glad
To know his safety, and himself to see
Restored to strength, however worn and sad.
And through the throng there pressed Sir Dinadan,
A knight of Arthur, known for jesting song,
And japing wit, that dull men feared, but still
Full knightly of his deeds. Of Arthur's will,
He came to seek Sir Tristram.
"Lord," said he,
"I pray you fairly that you joust with me,
Before you leave the land."
With light assent,
Sir Tristram answered: "Yea, if this be meant
In friendship, as I deem; and these allow
Who drive me forth."
The barons answered: "Yea,
Ride, if thou wilt, a course."
With short delay,
Sir Tristram armed and mounted. So they ran
A joust that jarred his shield, but Dinadan
With heavier force from selle to ground he threw.
"I pay for learning that before I knew,"
The fallen laughed; "but of thy grace I pray
That I may join thee on thy doubtful way."
"Right welcome art thou."
In this fair accord,
They took their chargers and themselves aboard
The waiting barque, but ere it left the quay,
Sir Tristram stood beside the rail, and said:
"Greet well King Mark, and all my foes, and say
That they shall see me on a later day,
Who maybe then will have no mirth to see
One of whose strength themselves their hates misled."
While watched Iseult the grey monotony
Of rain, and beating of the ceaseless sea,
Long lost from sight in mist and meeting cloud,
The barque of Tristram, as strong tides allowed,
And changing gales, or hindered, stoutly bore,
Northward, toward the opposing coast, until
Reaching against a varying gale, they wore
Too close beneath the wizard cliffs of Gore.
Some while anear a perilous land they drove,
But found at last fair landing in a cove
Tristram here and Dinadan
Left that blown barque. Cramped steed and wearier man
Like glad to lose its compassed hold, and know
Free stride and firm, whatever wind might blow.
And now could Tristram, spite the wrath and pain
That vexed his mind, feel other moods regain
Dominion; not his heart could all disown
Delight of hazardous life and paths unknown
Even from the worst reverse that fate could give,
And loss of all that love could lose and live.
It chanced, as ventures met, that while they pressed
Along the upland path that liked them best,
Four knights of Arthur in that land astray,
Beside a gorge that broke the westward way,
Paused, where a turbulent beating stream below,
Storm-filled, and clamorous in its straitened flow,
Sprayed to the bridge; and while their course they stayed
Along the opposite path that edged the lynn -
Their riding silenced by the clamorous din
Of that loud stream - Tristram and Dinadan
Some space did these four knights unnoticed scan;
And well their various arms Sir Dinadan knew;
Sir Ector's leopards, and the lances blue
On Driant's shield that crossed, and there beside,
Sir Bors' white dove soared in its azure field,
And there the hawk-plume, and the chevroned shield
Of Bleoberis. Such strong knights to bide
Showed force assured or friendship known; but they
With different deemings held their upward way.
For Tristram: "Fair is here our chance to try
Our rested strength," and Dinadan answered: "Why,
When but to speak our names were friends to find,
Should thoughts of hazardous strife intrude thy mind?"
And Tristram: "Never a knight in arms I meet,
Or friend or foe, but I would test his seat,
And look to find him feel the like desire."
"Then may full many a fall thy folly tire,"
Laughed Dinadan, "but since a knight so curst
Is comrade to my loss, myself the first
The test will take, and if I fall, perde,
More rescue than mine own is left in thee."
Forthwith Sir Ector and Sir Dinadan
Closed on the level bridge, and horse and man
Before Sir Ector's lance were rolled, and rose
Sore bruised, but whole. Sir Tristram then from those
Three waiting knights, Sir Bors, their mightiest chose,
But he thereat, who more than Dinadan
Loved not the unceasing strife of emulous spears:
"Methinks the valour of the sons of Ban
Is not so dimmed that any need appears
With wandering Cornish knights perforce to joust."
But Bleoberis challenged, and 'neath the thrust
Of Tristram's spear went down; and Bors, who gazed
At that slow-rising knight, exclaimed, amazed:
"Now false my scorn that mocked his Cornish spear;
What valiant nameless champion meet we here?"
Then nobly those four knights gave courteous way.
Now chanced it where they rode that near at hand
Sir Lancelot, riding from the Desolate Land,
Beyond Surluse, was noised to pass that way
Before the nightfall of the following day,
And there the malice of the Queen Le Fey,
The deadly ambush for his life had planned
Of thirty knights of Gore.
Who served that queen, but loved Sir Lancelot well,
Riding to frustrate their design intent,
Such wandering knights she sought as might prevent
Its treason, or reverse.
Nearby she came
To those four knights, and told the attempted shame,
And gained their surance at the need to be
Her champions as they might; and seeking yet,
Ranging the woods or larger rescue set,
More late with Tristram there and Dinadan met,
And stayed their path with her repeated plea.
And Tristram answered: "Since these knights ye know,
Their purpose and their path, now couldst thou show
Some earlier ambush than their own, we well
Might thin their numbers ere this meeting fell."
But spoke Sir Dinadan with swift protest:
"What would ye now? The fabled monster fights
Alone with thirty or unnumbered knights
And ever he proves his single strength the best,
But mortal knight, however bold and sure,
Two knights he may, or three at most, endure,
If men they be. For two alone to break
These affluent ranks were vain. I'd undertake
Two knights perchance to one, or five to two,
But more we may not, and I will not do."
But Tristram: "Likelier what ye dare ye can,
And more ye may not that ye dare no more."
"Ye be the maddest knight." said Dinadan,
"Save Lancelot, of the Table, whom I rode
Three days beside, and then three months abode
Full quiet to heal me of the wounds I bore."
"Do but thy part," Sir Tristram cried, "for shame!"
"Nay, shame were mine and many a jibing name,
To cast my life to measureless venture so.
Have I not heard thy deeds, and seen, and know
How thy dense bulk thy denser wits should drive
Through shouldering foes, and with thy life arrive,
Where I, in similar chance, should vainly end?
But, if thy madness last, I pray thee lend
The Cornish shield ye bear, for well ye know
Their stronger knights will seek the worthier foe,
And that scorned crest should win me safely through."
Wood wroth was Tristram then: "Now truce adieu!
This Cornish shield ye scorn more dear I hold
Than any wreath of fame or wealth of gold,
For her dear sake that gave it. Truth I swear,
Myself will slay ye here, except ye bide
One knight to answer, if no more ye dare,
While I shall counter all their spears beside.
Or, if your heart should fail one course to run,
Stand idly near and watch the strife ye shun."
But Dinadan mocked the wrath he roused: "Go to!
Here be enough of foes, and friends are few
And needs, or soon or later, must I do
Enough, perchance, to guard my life; but yet,
Evil I count the noon our wanderings met."
Sir Tristram hoved beneath a shadowing oak,
While those four knights whom first the damsel spoke
Held the near path to watch what fate befell.
And ere the lengthening shades to evening drew,
Following a silence through the woods, they knew
The ring and glitter of thirty appointed knights,
Pennoned and plumed and armed and mounted well.
These the four knights beheld but did not stay,
Counselling to watch the event awhile; and they
No earlier strife than with Sir Lancelot sought.
As dogs that bare their teeth, though neither bites,
Their wary parties passed: when loud above
Continual tramp and clang of steed and steel,
"Now here's a knight will strike for Lancelot's love,"
Rang from the wood. Ere lance to rest, or heel
To flank was laid, out from the shadowing oak,
Down the slope pathway, hard Sir Tristram broke.
Back from the imminent impact horse and man
With common impulse swerved, and swerving spread
Confusion downward through the lines they led.
Severing a lane of death his course he ran,
And after, meteor swift, Sir Dinadan
Flashed in the rear. Alike they turned: alike
Through that plunged rout their thrusting swords did strike
Wounds instant, and confusion offering death.
The refluent press increased disorder breeds;
Steeds wounded reared unruly; foundered steeds
Kicked in the dust. Who now continueth?
Full few there be that list to strive and die;
The most in jostling press disordered fly;
And scatheless those two knights, but barren of breath
Paused on the cumbered way.
To these there came
Sir Bors and his great comrades, who the while
Had wondering watched that deed its end fulfil,
And prayed Sir Tristram's grace to yield a name
"Not surely strange throughout this warrior isle,
Who singly, to that height of overthrow,
Intrepid courage had shown, and strength and skill,
A marvel in the eyes of men that know."
But answered Tristram: "Generous thanks I owe
To knights of fame assured, and loftier pride;
Knights whose fine courtesy could wait aside,
And portion in such glorious strife forego,
And these I render. For the name ye seek,
Shamed and exiled, till deeds shall loudlier speak,
And make it new, I count that name as naught
Abandoned even from my secret thought."
Thereat they parted with the severing way.
Green gloomed the path, and downward from the day
Sank into shade. Their careful chargers stept
A path which now some hurrying streamlet leapt,
And now was ridged with rocks, and slantly fell;
And then by shadowy pool and leafy dell
At ease they rode, the while did Dinadan tell
Those first fierce strifes of Arthur waged, and not
As came to Lyonesse the rumoured war,
But live with words of one that fought and saw.
And Tristram answered: "Knowing thy name so high
Of those who did the Five Kings' might defy,
Their tenfold strength to break, I marvel yet
That one whose place hath fame so surely set
Among the noblest, hath no shame to shun
The wayside chance."
And Dinadan: "Like as one,
Twain things ye join. Nine years this silver shield
In hazard of tourney strife, or mortal field,
Not all devoid of honour or won success,
I bore, in ranks not backward. Hence the less
Vain strife I seek, and if a knight I know
More worth than I, why should I, to prove it so,
Take hurt, or bruise, or loss of life may be?
(And he, Sir Bors, with whom ye sought to strive,
Learnt lance-craft from the deadliest lance alive),
Or knowing myself the better knight than he
His shame require?"
Said Tristram: "Better than I,
I would not lightly grant: and that ye can
Are few to match."
Now came a clearer sky.
A green vale widened. Meadow depths began
To open past the branches. Herds they met
Pastured, and flocks, and hinds to watch them set.
These hinds, at fall of day, they hailed, to find
Night-harbour, near at need: "Yon copse behind,"
The herdmen answered, "leftward turns the way,
Where those whom fortune serves good harbour may
And grateful tendence meet. Twin brethren there
Manorial rights and castle custom share.
Their stronghold fronts the path. No plunderers they:
Who wills may ride thereby and pass his way.
But who would lodge, by ancient ordering must,
One knight or more, with these twin brethren joust;
And he that shows the manlier seat in selle,
Unhindered in luxurious ease may dwell
(The castle's use maintained): who fails the test,
Without must fare, or leave, as likes him best."
Swift spoke Sir Dinadan: "Now lodge ye where
Your rashness may. I will not harbour there."
And wroth, Sir Tristram answered: "Nay, for shame;
Thus would ye slight your Table's glorious name,
Your own renown and merited worship lose,
Cowardly this wayside custom to refuse."
And answered Dinadan: "Sure knights are they,
Such hardy use to hold, nor lightly shent,
And doubtless rested all the langorous day,
While I my strength have in thy ventures spent,
Wounded and bruised thereby, and strained and tired."
But Tristram of his knighthood him required,
And there they rode, and there, short tale to tell,
Beneath their spears those strong twin brethren fell.
Well were they welcomed there. They bathed and dressed
In easeful garb, and found delight in rest,
And lavish banquet laid, and harp and song.
But mirth and feast they might not yet prolong,
For from the outer ward there came report
That two strong knights, Gaheris of the Court,
And Palomides, for night-harbour sought,
And claimed the custom.
"What," said Dinadan,
"Is there no rest? Do those who conquer meet
More toil than would be from their first defeat?
Do what thou wilt. But hope no more from me."
But Tristram answered: "By our own success
We hold the place we won. We may not less
Than now defend it."
"I will not so.
Tell them the custom died an hour ago."
"Am I alone against them both to be?"
"The devil led me to thy company."
In this debate they armed, and Tristram first
Gaheris overcame; but Dinadan
To Palomides fell: "I knew," said he,
"Surely I was of us four knights the worst.
Why must I fall to prove it?"
Sir Tristram said, "the test is not yet through.
Our swords remain, and with fair aid from you
I may resolve it as we would."
Bruised am I here. And I was bruised the more
In that wild strife with thirty knights before.
Why should I ever for thy madness bleed?"
"Then stand thee back. Is here the knightlier deed
Single to take the two."
"If that ye would,"
Gaheris said, "we may abate thy pride."
Then those strong knights at once on either side
Assailed Sir Tristram. Loth, Sir Dinadan
Thrust in, but with so little heart thereto
That Palomides cried: "It were but shame
This bout to gain, for still as one to two
Our blows we change. But leave it all to me,
And that he did not deem this knight shall see."
Then backward drew Gaheris. Gladly so
Withdrew Sir Dinadan. And downward came
The Paynim's sword on Tristram's helm, but he
Replied so fiercely that good paces three
Sir Palomides, with his shield too low,
Went stumbling back. But not a further blow
His helm sustained, for with an equal will
Their comrades thrust between, and bade them stay.
"Enough for honour is done. It were too much,
For custom not our own, dear life to touch."
"I am content," Sir Tristram said, "for still
Are here the victors, and resolve we may
That four remain, and none shall ride away."
"Resolve thou what thou wilt, but as for me,
I would not count, or count the four as three,"
Sir Dinadan said: "From where such customs are,
I cannot ride too fast, or ride too far."
"But nay," Sir Tristram said, "it shall not be
That thus we sever. Let us here enquire
Some lodging to thy will."
The lords they sought
Of that contentious hold, who mirthfully
To aid their absence joined, and sent a squire
To guide them to a forest priory,
Where for some space Sir Dinadan easeless lay;
While Tristram for new ventures rode away.
Those four good knights who knew not Tristram's name,
But had beheld the thirty's overthrow,
Together with the tale to Lancelot came:
"Nameless he may be now, but all will know
A name so splendid at no distant day."
Sir Lancelot asked: "His shield no blazon bore?"
"Blank was it. Only did its shape aver
That it was of a Cornish armourer."
"Then was it Tristram."
"So it well may be.
Who else of Cornwall hath such name as he?"
As thus they spake, a common purpose led
Their steps and Tristram's by converging ways
Toward the Castle of Maidens, where the king
Had blown a tourney which, for three great days,
Should test the valour and should prove the praise
Of Scotland's knights against North Gales. And there
Might all good knights to either part repair,
To aid their choice; and these to more recruit
With names of hardihed and fine repute,
And to their part persuade, had either king
Sent pursuivants abroad. King Caradoc
Sir Lancelot sought; and for his countering
North Gales on Tristram would alone rely.
So said the pursuivant whom Tristram met,
To which he gave a less than full reply:
"There shall I be, but have not certained yet,
Of two such parties, on which part am I.
I am no foe to Lancelot, but, perde,
It is not to the death such jousts should be.
I shall be likely on thy side, God wot,
Yet must ye tell your lord I pledge me not."
As nearer to the Severn bank he came,
The road was cut with hooves, and mounted men
Passed, or he passed them, all who took the way
Himself he followed, for such tourney-day
Called to all kinds, for service, gain, or fame,
Or for delight some shining deed to see.
Then to his side came Kay and Sagramore
(Surely he knew them, but unknown was he).
They talked of tourneys held on days afore
Where Tristram had not been; and boastfully
Kay spake his part, confusing false and true
(For much he did, though all he did not do).
And Tristram answered: "Though but young am I,
And little practised such high deeds to try,
And most of whom ye speak I have not seen,
Nor ever at so large a tourney been,
I trust some merit to my name may be,
Ere all things end."
Sir Kay his Cornish shield
Viewed with no dread. That here were knight concealed
Of more than youthful and unpractised skill
He did not think: "Then have ye heart to try,"
He asked, "the weight of such a knight as I?"
The half-scornful challenge met a meek reply:
"I thank thee, but I would not of my will
Take risk of bruise or stiffening wound, until
I have my part in this high tourney nigh."
"It is a Cornish answer," said Sir Kay,
"Which makes who speaks it as a recreant man,
Who will henceforth a better pord obey."
And Tristram, angered: "Must thy pride construe
A gentle answer in so base a way?
Then must I meet thee, as perchance I can....
Govenale, a spear."
"But have I wrothed thee? Nay,
More than we mean a jesting word will say."
"No jest was thine."
"My mind is changed."
Is steel toward thee now. Defend or fall,
Or yield thee recreant by thine own decree."
But slow was Kay to answer. Loth was he
Against so bold a call that bout to try.
But Tristram stayed not: "Back or breast," he cried,
"Fenceful or fenceless shall my spear be tried."
So, with no choice, Sir Kay that counter ran,
And Tristram cast him to the ground asprawl,
But gave to Sagramore a lighter fall,
When came he forward at his comrade's call.
It was a lone league of the varied way
That Tristram rode, and now companionless,
When hoved a damsel there who charged him stay
Her need to meet.
"I have prayed four knights," she said,
"Who would not pause to give my loss redress,
Being more bent a wider praise to win
In the bold bicker of the tourney din,
Than single to prevail where no men see."
Sir Tristram halted. Soft of mien was she,
And softly robed, though torn disorderly;
And soft her speech, and soft her pleading eyes.
"Damsel, who wronged ye?"
"Ten miles hence there lies,
Deep hidden in the closing woods, a tower
Wherein there dwells a foul and ruthless knight,
Who to all damsels doth the same despite
As I have suffered, if their hapless fate
Betray them to his lust inordinate.
Much on his secret tower his heart relies,
But more that any who his might defies
Is overcast, and then unmercied dies,
Such is the cruel strength he shows."
Have little fear in such extreme to lie.
Do thou to this lone tower thy guidance give,
And which of two shall die, and which shall live,
Will soon be shown."
Aside that damsel led
Through the lone woodlands, where the conies fled
The bracken-bordered path. Six miles away,
A beaten road they crossed, and there they knew
A knight by-riding on a steed of might,
With service as belongs a noble knight,
And the bold arms of Orkney, vert and blue,
His prideful lineage showed. Lord Gawain he,
Who halted, much in wrath, these twain to see.
"Sir stranger knight, of that poor shield," he said,
"Art thou in service of the queen Le Fey?"
"Is little worship such a word to say
To one who by that word thou dost not know.
Why shouldst thou offer to miscall me so?"
"I needs must judge thee by thy company.
Where dost thou ride?"
"This damsel best can tell."
"Fair knight, if this be truth, thou dost not well.
I know her for Queen Morgan's trained decoy,
Whose craftful treasons will such knights destroy
As heed her falsehoods or her lusts allow."
"How wilt thou prove it?"
"This, God's sooth, is how...
Damsel, this sword is very deadly steel."
- His sword he bared - "And this thy throat shall feel
Except thy lips reprieve it. If they lie,
They lie not twice."
The frightened damsel cried:
"Lord Gawain, mercy! I would naught conceal,
Who came not gladly, but the fear I feel
For her who sent me gave no choice."
As from the closer fear the further fled,
She told: "But one of thirty damsels I,
Sent by the queen, by divers ways to go
Lord Lancelot to beguile, that he be led
To where she harbours now, three miles away,
Or else Sir Tristram. Thirty knights who lie
Either within or ambushed round her gate,
To slay them as they come, their moment wait.
Another thirty range abroad to try
Some lurking treason, that Sir Lancelot die."
"Such dealing," said Sir Gawain, "cries the shame
Of one so close of blood to Arthur's name
That hard it is to reach belief."
Sir Tristram answered, "well believe. For late
That errant thirty in the woods I met;
And with a comrade mine we overset
Haply enough to in some sort abate
Their previous pride."
"Then wilt thou side with me
Another count of thirty knights to see?"
"Damsel, then is thine to lead.
But think ye of a throat that yet may bleed,
If any treason in thy heart remain."
So to the castle where Queen Morgan lay
They rode; and there on high did Gawain say:
"Queen, all thy treasons and thy wiles are bare;
And all ye thirty, if so much ye dare,
Come forth and slay us, or yourselves be slain."
But from the wall the thirty made reply:
"Lord Gawain, here alone, except to die,
You had not come. But well thy wits rely
On whom is silent at thy side; for we
Know him too surely to the gate unbar."
And Gawain answered: "From the curs ye are
Such words are native, and your praise would be
The larger menace to a fair repute."
Thereat they turned, and left that hindering wall,
And that false damsel to her own device;
And to the Castle of Maidens' fairer call
Once more were heedful. Riding hastefully,
They joined again with Kay and Sagramore,
And bordered that wild land where Breuse had power.
Here the high path declined a curving way,
And twisted backward to a vale that lay
Clothed in great oaks beneath it. Downward far
They looked, and saw the path their feet should tread,
That through the level of the woodlands led
To towers that there the girdling oaks concealed,
Where Breuse sans Pitie tamed with scourge and bar
The guiltless knights he seized but did not kill.
Like a crouched beast it laired in that lone weald,
Seen only from the height on which they stood.
Still was the scene. The summer wind alone
Gave motion; and of sound its varying tone
Was single through the spaces of the wood;
Till from the boskage of the pathless shaw
An outcry burst, and Breuse himself they saw
In hard pursuit of one most impotent:
A lady whom he chased and sought to slay
In anger at the bitter words she said
When her loved comrade by his hands was spent.
Her nimble palfrey now the upward way
Took with good heart, and felt her urgent dread
Rowel his panting sides, but not for long
Had she outdistanced death, except her wrong
These knights had seen.
"Now if ye stand away,"
Sir Gawain said, "and leave this bout to me,
Before a single knight he will not flee,
And I may all his ruthless wrongs repay."
Then drew they sideward to the shading trees,
And Gawain downward rode.
"Avoid to prey
On one whose weakness from thy danger flees,
And meet an equal spear," he cried, whereat
Sir Breuse must rein, and much in wrath he ran
On one who surely was no weakling foe.
Then trackless through the trees the lady fled
To seek such solace as the wild can give
In its deep heart to sorrow fugitive,
While Gawain with the felon clashed, but he,
Who should have fallen by all knightly law,
Swayed in a seat he did not lose, and saw
Sir Gawain, senseless, cast across the way.
Round reined the victor knight, in haste to stay
A rising foe, and with his hooves to beat
The fallen backward, as his use would be
With all he threw, in fashion infamous.
But Tristram, seeing Sir Gawain tumbled thus,
Shouted, and forward hurled at speed, to free
His comrade from that lewd iniquity
Of villain habit, worst in knighthood's name.
But Breuse, as thundering down the path he came,
Swung round, and through the thicket broke away.
For such his wont, the single knight to slay,
Or capture for despitious use, but not
Would honour, or the rules of chivalry
(Of which, if aught he knew, his heart forgot),
Withhold him from a second force to flee.
Much in a steed well-tested trusted he,
And now, at mortal need, it served him well.
For swerved it through the trees regardlessly
Of any guidance his of heel or rein.
For best its way to choose itself could tell,
To foil pursuit and further distance gain.
Soon Tristram nothing saw, though half he heard,
And soon from then he neither heard nor saw.
He could not win a chase he did not see,
He would not leave a chase he might not win.
So rode he wrathful till the empery
Of early darkness those dense woods within
Constrained his halting, and such ease he found
As summer woods can give, and grassy ground,
And such refreshing as a woodland brook
Could furnish ere his tentless rest he took.
So couched beneath the moving stars he lay,
Till by a wildering chance, at dawn of day,
Dame Bragwaine, who in likelier ways too long
Had wandered in his search, and wandered wrong,
Came where he lay. Himself she did not know,
And might have passed, but well the steed she knew,
Which once, Iseult to save, did hard pursue
The Saracen knight.
The while he slept she laid
Food for his need beneath the morning shade,
That else he had not found; nor waked he till
Her menials all had wrought to meet her will.
So from hard ground to rich repast he stirred,
That different from his drowsing thoughts must be,
Who nothing from those wilds had looked to see,
Till further toil had found it. Yet his word
Was not for this, but for a nearer need:
"What tidings of the queen? Are all things well?
What hast thou brought to show, and what to tell?"
"I bring," she said, "the queen's own script. I bring
Good tidings of her peace, for still the king
Quails for thy vengeance should he work her wrong."
"Then wise his guess. Were never tower so strong,
Nor fosse so deep, nor any sea so wide,
That he behind their vast defence should bide,
Should he that warning word forget to fear,
And evil for her of his kind contrive."
Then did he read the longing words and sad
She wrote, and surely all his heart was glad
The desolation of her grief to know,
For woe is love's relief, and laughter woe.
"Now," said he, "somewhat shall your steps delay
Their straight return. For you shall ride with me
To this near tourney, all its deeds to see.
For that shall dower you with the more to say
Of how I prosper; while I well prepare
Such letters as shall be your gain to bear."
Then to an ancient knight, Sir Pellones,
Who all the menace of that mighty wood
Within the shelter of such walls withstood
That Breuse's malice could not bate his ease,
By Bragwaine's guidance in good hour they drew;
And Govenale there rejoined them. Blithe was he
That dame of previous friendship there to see,
And past accords of amorous sort renew.
There at the board their anxious host enquired:
"In all your wanderings did you meet with one,
Sir Persides? For he, my single son,
For two years past I have not seen."
Recall him," Tristram answered. "Sooth to tell,
Good knight is he, as one so nobly sired
Is like to be. In Cornish hills we met,
And there a wound he gave that irks me yet."
"You are from Cornwall?"
"Cornish knight am I.
He was but errant: idly riding by."
But even while they spake the word was said
That in the outer court Sir Persides
Was now dismounting. That great tourney-day,
Which drew great knights from half the world away,
Had called him homeward. In good hope he came
Where many rising from inferior fame
Should earn repute; or in their just degrees
Establish it for others.
So the day
Failed into night, and night in like retreat
Allowed the day. And Tristram rose and trod
The battled wall, and chanced thereon to meet
Sir Persides, who spake in courtesy:
"You are from Cornwall, as I hear?"
"So is it. Born in Lyonesse wilds was I."
"Haply ye know Sir Tristram? Well I fared
Among the knights of Mark, till no man dared
Resist my pleasure, when a damsel there
I claimed for mine; until Sir Tristram rose,
And reft her from me, whom he did not need.
It was a mischief, as I well suppose,
That, if I bide my time, will time repair."
"Is Tristram then so weak he needs must care
That yet thou art not to thy loss agreed?"
"I say not that. A noble knight is he;
And stronger far than any strength in me
Can equal. Yet the strongest knight should heed
The weakest who waits his hour of need."
"Well, God be with thee, if thy reason fail."
"But tell me if by any chance ye know
That knight, black-horsed, black-armed, who rides below?
Seest thou his shield besides is blank and black,
Though such device meseems it should not lack
As knightly use may win."
"I know him well.
There are few better that the world contains."
"Then it is Lancelot?"
"Nay, it is not he.
I know him, for but late he rode with me;
The Christless knight who yet doth most excel
In Christian lands, and in these lands remains
For that which never shall requite his pains,
Unless Sir Tristram first he chase or slay."
"Ye speak of Palomides."
"Who but he?"
Awhile they watched contending knights below;
For those who gathered for the tourney show
Were active now, in battle harness drest,
New arms to custom, or new steeds to test,
In hurtling ranks, or bouts of single play.
"Fair brother," said Sir Tristram, "shall we now
Cast on our cloaks, and to the court descend
To learn by others' falls, or cheer a friend?"
But answered Persides: "I would not so
At mercy midst that battling crowd to go,
But as strong knights, with never cause to heed,
Who neither mercy ask nor mercy need."
"Be it as thou wilt." And so, with light assent,
Together by the outer stair they went
Down to the court, and called their steeds, and clad
Strong limbs in steel, and gat great spears in hand,
And being unknown to those they met, full fain
Were those their seats to prove.
But one was there
Who knew Sir Persides. With greeting fair
He sent his squire: "Dost mark that knight," he said,
"On whose gay shield a lion of gold is seen,
That rageth rampant on a field of green?
Tell him Sir Palomides long hath meant
With one so prankt a friendly course to try."
And answered Persides: "The like would I."
And fair that course he rode, and yet with ease
The Paynim knight bore down Sir Persides.
Then spake Sir Tristram: "For my comrade's fall
Thyself to ride a further course I call."
And at the word, and in too swift retort,
Sir Palomides charged, and chanceless caught
Sir Tristram with his lance unsurely set.
Wrath from the bruising fall that failure met
Rose Tristram, as the Paynim turned away.
"Go to him Govenale, in haste, and say
A second course I will."
But Govenale came
With answer that increased his master's ire.
"Saith the black knight that here you have no claim
To tourney rules, or second bouts require,
And him you may not know, but whom you be
He knoweth full well. And then these words he said:
'Tell him tomorrow at the tournament,
When all who will with all who will may meet,
I may in more men's sight that fall repeat.'"
That fall had Dinadan seen, for, sooth to say,
Better he loved to watch than share the play,
And see perchance some deed of praise or wrong,
Such as is potent for the birth of song.
He mocked not, when Sir Tristram's wrath he saw:
"Why chafe ye vainly at the chance of war?
There is none born who shall in all prevail.
A steed will stumble, or a lance will fail.
For, were it other, all that moves were still.
Not God Himself should cleanse our lives of ill,
And leave our honours at the height they are."
"Well," said Sir Tristram, "be it near or far,
My honour waits the day that sees him lie
Rolled and dishevelled in such dust as I.
- And here again he cometh!"
"It is not he,"
Said Dinadan: "Are all black shields to thee
Become as scarlet to a blundering bull?
I know him well. The North Gales knight is he,
Sir Briant, of a mind too jestless-dull
To either ventures seek or dangers shun."
The while they spake, another knight was nigh,
Sir Lancelot, who his dreaded strength concealed
With the light mockery of a Cornish shield.
To Briant now he sent his squire, and pled
That he would ride a course for hardihed.
And Briant answered: "Thank thy lord, and say
I will not stint to do the most I may."
Faultless and feintless both, in sober strength,
Sir Briant jousted well, but stretched his length
Prone on the ground.
"Now soothly," Tristram said,
"He rode a course that earned a fairer fate.
His shield was dressed aright, his spear was straight,
His steed well reined. I marvel who could be
The careless victor of such knight as he.
But this I know, though all besides I guess,
That shield of Cornwall hath no seemliness
Hanged from the neck of one whose might were few
Of Arthur's mightiest names to overdo."
"One guess," Sir Dinadan said, "that will not stray,
Is lightly made, that, be he whom he may,
He cometh of the kingly race of Ban.
For equalled are they, counting man by man,
Neither by Orkney's best, nor all Logre,
Nor Pellinor's sons, nor knights of Soldanry,
Nor any else of Arthur's part who be;
Alike in numbers and in nobleness,
Without defect of any."
"I well believe,"
Sir Tristram answered, "strength is theirs to grieve
A world in arms against them. Dost thou see
The Cornish knight (but not of Cornwall he)
Takes more offence?"
So was it seen, for two
Called of the Mount, Sir Madoc and Sir Hue,
Bold for rebuff, came riding side by side,
And seeing how much that Cornish knight could do,
Defied him in their haste a course to ride;
And he assented, and reduced their pride,
Flinging them both, and did not change his spear.
With that he turned away, but one was there
Who found no pleasure in a sight so fair.
The warworn king who ruled North Gales was he,
Chosen for tomorrow's jousts the chief to be
Of those who should the Table Knights oppose.
He saw these three on whom he well relied
Cast casual to the ground, and spake aside
To Palomides, where he watched the show.
"Seest thou that Cornish knight? Good knights are those
Whom he hath flung so hard. What knight is he?
He was too strong for them. But not to thee
His force were fearful."
"King," the Paynim said,
"I think to hold me fresh thy part to aid."
"Nay, better now were that conceit dismayed."
"Lord, as thou wilt," he said, "yet well may fall
That not for honour but defeat I call."
"I will not think it."
"Well, with God is all.
Yet may we shortly ask and long repent."
Sir Palomides' squire to Lancelot went:
"My master prays thee of thy courtesy
That thou wilt ease him of his idleness."
"What is the name he bears? Which knight is he?"
"His name is Palomides."
I will endure him. Seven years past have I
Desired this meeting."
Then alike they sent
For spears of tested weight and length whereby
They should not be reduced unworthily,
The while Sir Tristram said: "I look to see
The Paynim hold his seat."
"It will not be.
I have not seen the like, unless for thee,
Of him disguised who cast the previous three,"
Sir Dinadan answered.
"Well, we need not guess,
For instant is the proof."
The while they spake
The twain had fewtred their great spears: they dress
Their ample shields the coming shock to take:
They spur their chargers to their speed.
Of Palomides struck its mark so fair
That high the shivering splinters leapt in air.
But Lancelot's was so straightly aimed to meet
The countering steel that there it did not break.
Through shield and hawberk such a path it clave
That had Sir Palomides held his seat
No surety had been his his life to save.
But backward far behind his charger cast
The straw-strewn ground received him.
Those who saw
Were numerous of North Gales, and wroth were they
To know their strongest in so hard a play
Unhorsed and tumbled: "That he doth today
Will not tomorrow, if so long he last,
Repeated see?" In scorn of knightly law,
Their basest banded to contrive his fall.
They watched him leave the field, and gathering all
Their evil strength - twelve spears that hardening war
Had taught themselves to save, and foes to slay -
Pursued, and when for ease he next alit
Beside a fountain, thinking there to sit
By woodland girt, and of the peace of it
Partaking gladly, and its cooling shade,
He heard pursuit, and heard these knights invade,
Clamorous, the green approaches of the glade.
"We have thee here at vantage. Yield or die.
Thou shalt not arm thee," with one voice they cried.
"Yield?" said he, in wonder. "Surely will not I,
Who have seen such odds before, and have not died."
He had no time his helm to take. He snatched
The spear his squire advanced. He leapt to selle.
Upon the foremost knight he rode; outmatched,
Transfixed upon the breaking spear who fell.
Instant his sword was out. To left, to right,
He smote, as who but he was skilled to smite?
Each stroke a wound, each wound a death might be.
Widely and fast they fled, excepting three
Who were too valiant or too late to flee,
And whom he felled.
From that contention free,
A surer rest he sought. That night he lay
In the safe hold from which at morn he rode.
Worn was he with the toils of joust and fray,
And though he would not from the tourney stay,
He did not arm him on the opening day,
But on the scaffold with the king he bode,
Among those knights whom Arthur chose to share
His voice of judgement, and the prize declare.
End of Chapter XI